Embrace Errors

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From our earliest days, most of us are taught to seek out success and avoid making errors. But that’s impossible. As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “There is no effort without error.”

Since we can’t avoid making errors, it’s fortunate there’s a way to benefit from them. Simply put: you can and probably should learn to accept that in certain circumstances, error is a good thing.

Here are some suggestions for recognizing and gaining important benefits from your unavoidable errors:

Recognize You Will Err

Nobody becomes expert or successful without making errors. Consider this: whatever you’re trying to accomplish, before you can do it you must learn and practice the relevant skills. No matter how much inborn talent you bring to a task, project, or goal, your early efforts will almost always fall short. What’s more, as you gain skills and experience, you will almost certainly learn to improve on those early efforts.

It’s not terrible to make these early, unavoidable errors. In fact, you’re better off welcoming them. If you go the other way and allow yourself to fear your early errors, you may foolishly try to avoid them either by trying less hard or by not trying at all. In either of these cases, you will not make as much progress or improve as fast.

As Thomas Watson, president of IBM, famously said: “The fastest way to succeed is to double your failure rate.”

Error is the Way Forward

In many ways, your errors tend to be far better learning experiences than your successes. This is because efforts that produce poor results usually involve prominent problems that are easy to see:

  • You’re focused on the wrong elements of the situation.
  • Your efforts are poorly organized, uncoordinated, other otherwise contain mechanical errors that make success far less likely.
  • You’re aiming for the wrong – or at least a more difficult – target.
  • You are presently deficient in information, skill, tools, resources, or something else you can and should acquire to make success more likely.

Errors tend to prompt a relatively deep analysis that usually yields useful insights into what’s good and bad about them, and ways you can improve.

Steadily Scan for Errors

Because errors can be so valuable for learning and improvement, it’s helpful to make looking for them an important  part of your everyday activities.

This is not to say you should embrace sloppiness or low-quality efforts in hopes of making extra errors. Those sorts of mistakes are so easily eliminated they provide very little fodder for deeper insights into significant opportunities to improve.

Rather, you should strive for excellence at all times, but remain on the lookout for errors so you are more likely to identify them sooner rather than later.  

Don’t Tolerate Deficiencies

Because errors can be so valuable for learning and improvement, it’s actually helpful to seek out the hidden ones, too. Most of us readily accept the need to look for errors in situations and efforts that don’t satisfy. But it’s also helpful to try and overcome the tendency to be satisfied with success, and to see if we can find any errors in efforts that produce positive results.

For example, if you’re playing a competitive game and you happen to win, it’s natural to simply celebrate and move on. But your winning performance may – in fact, probably does – contain errors that can point toward opportunities for improvement.

In the same way, almost everything you do that turns out well may also contain hidden problems or sub-optimal moments you can identify, explore, and profitably exploit as learning opportunities.

Celebrate Your Errors

Because most of us have been conditioned to think of errors as entirely negative and worthless, we tend to feel bad about committing even the smallest of them. After we make one, we usually want to put it behind us as quickly as possible.

But now you see that, along with their inherent negativity, errors have many positive aspects. For this reason, it’s helpful to focus on our errors – at least long enough to wring whatever useful lessons and insights we can learn from each one.

I’m not saying to hold a party in honor of each of your errors. I’m simply suggesting that cultivating a more positive and receptive attitude toward unavoidable errors is likely to lead you to more readily acknowledge and identify some errors that otherwise you might not notice.

Recognizing, embracing, and learning from failures, rather than sweeping them under the rug, turns out to be a far better strategy that leads to faster and more lasting improvement in both your work and your life.

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