Are You Learning from Your Mistakes?

A long-time contractor recently told me of taking charge of a building project when he first got started. Having just graduated with a degree in construction management and feeling full of himself, he began by telling the masons that he would now order their materials since he knew how to budget the job in a more efficient way. When they protested, he told them there was a new sheriff in town. “I still laugh when I think about how screwed up that order was,” he said.

We all learn the lessons of hubris, arrogance and over-confidence at one time or another. But some of us end up learning them over and over in different settings. As I’ve observed a wide variety of business decision makers, I’ve found that they can be divided into three categories. A substantial number make a mistake in one setting and then the same or a similar mistake in a different situation. Another group learns from their mistakes but fails to extrapolate them. This means they don’t make the same mistake twice, but can’t seem to scaffold the reasoning behind these mistakes to other challenges.

Then there’s the sliver of decision makers who not only learn from the mistakes they make, but are able to see the larger context and influences, allowing them to avoid the mistakes others in the first two categories make. For this reason, those around them assume they have some sort of special intelligence or deep smarts. In reality, these individuals have simply developed the discipline to mentally evaluate and catalog what they learn and leverage it when facing new challenges. So, into which category do you fall? What can you do to make it into the “sliver” if you’re not already there?

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