The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing  (John Powell)

When were you last annoyed about a mistake? And, what did it bring? Be honest: nothing! So why do mistakes make you feel so awkward? Why do you feel caught, as if you had done something bad? I wonder why?

I don’t know how you experienced your childhood and school time. But I guess you had a lot of fun learning to ride a bike, for instance. You kept trying and practising until you could do it. You would not have dreamt of feeling bad after falling. You got up again, you might have picked a few small stones out of your wound, and got back on the bike.

Why do you feel so awkward when you make a mistake?

Maybe because, as a child, as the result of a mistake,

  • you messed up something important,
  • you had to repeat something until you could do it perfectly,
  • you were made to feel stupid in front of others,
  • you questioned your intelligence,
  • or an opportunity was missed?

The Americans’ trial-&-error philosophy

If we in Middle Europe start planning something, we look at the whole project from all the different angles in the preparatory phase, to make sure not to make any mistakes. We work according to the failure-exclusion-method.

The typical American way to approach something new is the trial-&-error-method. This means trying until a solution has been found. Failures are accepted without criticism, as they promote development and bring us closer to a result. The only problem is making the same mistake again and again without learning from it.

Brief error management

Here are a few tips, in case you keep falling into the same trap:

  1. Keep your nerve. If you have made a mistake, keep calm and carry on! A reckless and hasty reaction to try and repair the damage can cause the opposite.
  2. Analyse the situation.Consider what effects your failure might have (on others) and what should be done immediately. In most cases, your errors will not end in a serious threat to you and others (of course, excluding doctors, pilots, or people in similar jobs).
  3. Consider the next step.It is no use being like the rabbit in front of the snake. Think what could be the most sensible step to get out of trouble.
  4. Be honest to yourself and others.Mistakes are unpleasant, but attempts to hide or distract from them are even more unpleasant and embarrassing. Take responsibility for your error, and nobody will condemn you.
  5. Stop moaning and look for solutions!Making mistakes and then moaning is a no go. You might feel sorry for yourself, and others, because of the unpleasant situation you have caused. But moaning is simply a waste of energy, and this is certainly what you need the least.
  6. Take responsibility.If your mistake has caused damage, take responsibility. Try to compensate for it, or, at least offer some sort of favour in return. This doesn’t always mean you have to pay in real terms for the damage you’ve caused, because compensation can also take the form of helping the victim in some practical way.

Living involves making mistakes. He who makes no mistakes, is no longer alive.

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