June 28, 2013

How to succeed in making mistakes?

Personal Agile Development - Failures, mistakes and experiencing are great levers to success.

When I have autonomy I grow. Yes, and mainly when I have room for trying and making mistakes.

"The only way to not fail is to not try" or "you learn from mistakes" - these are sentences I believe many of us hear over and over since our childhood. Cliché? I think not.
The room for trying and making mistakes is one of the things I believe in the most. After all, we all make mistakes all the time. The question is do we learn from our mistake?. Truly learn. And the more important question is do we know how to make mistakes in order to learn?
No. Don't avoid making mistakes. Really don't. I even recommend feeling free to make mistakes. Don't stop trying even if it means making mistakes. The idea is to know how.
My boy for instance, he's a champion in computer games. The kind that has levels, adventures, where the main player gains power and knowledge... And he didn't start playing from the highest level becoming a champ without making mistakes, right?! He kept failing, fixing, repeating, experiencing again, getting better, failing again.. and in the end he feels on top of the world. Why? Because it's OK to fail and fix. Because he has the space, the legitimacy and autonomy to fail. His feeling of success comes from his ability to fix and make progress. There's nothing like small failures and small successes as part of an experience to make us feel capable and successful.

Same goes with me. My ability to grow will be possible through the experiences I go through. But not just any experience, it's my ability to fail, to fix, try again and get better...
I don't have to get scared and shy away every time I make a mistake. I do have to be brave, take a good look at my mistake and improve on it.
So how to succeed in making mistakes?

1. Don't be afraid to try. How do people become master sportsmen? How does someone become a master at any field? By trying. A lot. Trying that comes from the ability to learn and get better.

2. By making small steps, our mistakes will also be smaller, more digestible and easier to fix. They will also increase our sense of autonomy to make mistakes. Just like in a computer game. Small mistakes are more controllable, they teach us more. They are also less scary, less noisy and are surely less harmful.

3. Inspecting our experiences and our mistakes is another important part of knowing how to make mistakes. After all, we wouldn't want to make the same mistake twice, would we?! Our mistakes are vital for our continuous improvement. They are great learning tools, because they provide us with a perfect context to our actual reality and not to what our reality should theoretically be. This is why looking at our mistakes and asking what have we learned from them, what we should stop doing and what we should start doing differently is a good and brave way to learn. I think cooking can be a good example for this. Is a recipe perfect the first time we try it? Or do we need to retry and refine it several times until I understand what are the right ingredients for my palette, until I find the "right mix" for me?

4. Sometimes we'll make small, controlled experiments, so we can test how reality responds to the change we want to make. But this will be a small experiment, so if we fail we can learn, fix and try to make it better. Small mistakes that entail some preliminary probing of the reality we have coming, are both controllable and help us learn.

5. Also from big mistakes - which regrettably do happen - we ought to learn. We won't rule ourselves out for our past mistakes. It is important for us to look back at the past, take with us what helped us get passed the hard times and learn what not to repeat.

6. By making mistakes we learn how to avoid some of them in the future. 

And... Don't forget to enjoy the journey.

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