Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

The importance of learnable lessons – cultivating the opportunity of mistakes

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on August 6, 2015

• An expert is someone who has made every conceivable mistake, and has learned at least something from every one of them.

I repeat this adage here with reservations for its cartoonish simplicity, while acknowledging that I have at least occasionally used this “working definition” as a matter of explanatory principle too. And I have, I am sure, done so at least once in this blog to prove that admission.

I repeat it here again to highlight a crucially important, and probably more empirically valid point about learning and about learning curves:

• An expert, at least as much as that adage would claim, is someone who can organize all of their separately arrived at lessons learned into a single overarching coherent pattern, and who can continue to draw meaning and lessons from that pattern , as it fills out and expands.

But that all begins at least, with learning all of those separate lessons-learned puzzle pieces in the first place, and with always looking for opportunity to keep learning more of them, and even when mistakes are significant and even if and when they seem embarrassing for their consequences.

Effectively learning these lessons means stepping back from actions taken, or actions not taken that should have been, and their consequences, to consider all of what has happened and the how and why of that dispassionately. This is about taking ownership of what we have done and of the resulting consequences of that, and without reducing all of this to an emotional response. And that more analytical, less emotionally involved response is not always easy to achieve, and especially when resulting consequences create significant new problems and challenges that will have to be addressed too.

The type of analytical, reason-based, emotionally dispassionate ownership response that I write of here is itself one of the most important lessons that we can learn. This is a lesson about perspective and about stepping back to consider events and their consequences from wider perspectives. Everything does not and cannot always work correctly and certainly not the first time. Details are missed or misunderstood, unexpected and even fundamentally unpredictable complications can develop, and processes and practices can and sometimes do break down.

Taking a more dispassionate approach in understanding and taking ownership of a problem and its consequences just become that more difficult, when complications have created disruption and stress for others, your own supervisor or manager included – and they act out in response to this in ways that are at least largely emotionally driven and in ways that increase the pressures on you by limiting your opportunity to take any corrective action. The more emotionally driven the response of others around you are, the more important it becomes that you remain a center of calm.

Communications skills become essential here, and both that you clearly articulate what happened and how, and that you be able to present at least a starting point for how resulting problems could be addressed. That might mean fully resolved and corrected problem resolutions, or it might mean arriving at a Plan B, work-around correction. But when you acknowledge ownership of problems that you have caused, or of your share of responsibility when you have contributed to a problem, a best path forward from that position would generally be for you to be able to offer a path out of any mess so created.

• An expert is someone who has made every conceivable mistake, and has learned at least something from every one of them.

Yes, it is simplistic and certainly if cited and understood as if in a vacuum. But if “learned” in that is fully thought through and clarified for its context, this adage can be useful as a “working definition” anyway.

I have been addressing in this, the mistakes we ourselves make and how we can fall into the sometimes-trap of the unexpected too with the problems that can create. An expert is also someone who knows how to learn from the experiences of others: both good and bad and from others’ challenges too. There are always potential lessons we could learn from out there, just waiting as opportunities for us to learn from.

• This posting is not about our never making mistakes, or about our never being blindsided by the unexpected. It is about at least reducing how often we avoidably repeat the same ones.

You can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 (with this included as a supplemental posting there) and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide.


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