We all make mistakes. It is one of the absolute certainties of life. Mistakes are just part of being human. Think about the last time you made a mistake or were wrong about something. How did it make you feel? Were you ashamed, disappointed, embarrassed, or maybe even angry? A few months ago, Kathleen Schwarz, author of Being Wrong, asked this same question at a TED convention. What she said next was empowering. She said “it is perfectly justified and exceptionally common to feel all of these negative emotions when we are wrong. But these emotions come from the answer to a different question. The question these feeling answer isn’t what it feels like to be wrong, but what it feels like to realize you are wrong”.
Ms. Schwarz had a very good point, because in the time between when we are wrong and when we realize we are wrong, we don’t feel shame, remorse or regret. We feel confident, because we feel as if we are right. These feelings of self-loathing come only after someone has projected societies values upon us. From the time we are young, society shapes us to believe being wrong is in some way an indictment against us as people. When we are going through school, our teachers look to those who make mistakes as the “problem” children; the ones who don’t do their homework, have trouble learning or are broken in some way. As we get older, our bosses and colleagues view those who make mistakes as somehow inferior to those who don’t make mistakes. So what do we learn from these interactions? We learn to stop pushing our thinking past where it is so we don’t receive those negative labels, we hold back from taking risks, we choose the safe path rather than the path of exploration.
But what if we looked at mistakes in a different light? What is we looked at mistakes as an opportunity to grow and become better versions of ourselves? What if we view mistakes in the light of possibilities and we open our paradigm up to new standards. If we do, we no longer need to fear being labeled in some negative light. We can choose our label as that of a learner and an ever evolving body of work. But to start looking at ourselves in a different light, we need to understand how we view the world currently.
A great place to start is to understand if you view the world through the lens of your strengths, or if you view the world through your weaknesses. If you view the world through your strengths, you have the possibility to achieve greatness. All of us are provided with some innate characteristics which differentiate us from everyone else. Perhaps we have a strong sense of focus, or are a rabid learner, can find connections between seemingly unrelated concepts, or build relationships with the masses. If you are not sure what sets you apart, go pick up StrenghtsFinder 2.0 at your local bookstore and complete the accompanying assessment. This tool will help you understand some of what makes you special and unique.
However, if you look at your world through the lens of weaknesses, consider changing lenses. It is not uncommon to look at the world through the lens of weaknesses. After all, when we first brought home grades from school, very few of us had parents who focused on what we did well. Rather, the prevalent approach was to focus on what we did poorly. And what did this get us? It guided us to become the most average person we could become. We worked on developing areas that had no hope of mastering and neglected those areas where we already had a head start against everyone else. Think of focusing on weaknesses like becoming a decathlete. You can’t become the best sprinter, high jumper, pole vaulter or distance runner. So instead, you become ok at each event hoping to become more average than your competition at the sum of all events. To become truly great, focus on what you do well, then develop that area to become amazing.
Once you have started looking at your strengths, consider looking at your personality preferences. The Myers Briggs Type Indicator is an assessment used to measure how our innate personality preferences help us to perceive the world and how we tend to make decisions. Those who perceive the world through a lens of what is, of our concrete world, and of past experiences, are said to use a preference of sensing. Conversely, those who tend to look at the world through a lens of possibility, of what could be, and of the abstract, are said to use the preference of intuition. All of us have a preference towards one or the other of these dichotomous choices, but we have the ability to freely move between preferences whenever we would like. If we spend too much time focusing on what is, we may be missing the big picture. And if we focus too much on what could be, we may be blind to what is standing right in front of us.
The MBTI also helps us understand how we prefer to make decisions. Those who are more comfortable in using logic, facts, analysis and objectivity, we are said to prefer the “thinking" preference. While those who vet decisions through a lens of people, emotion and subjectivity are said to prefer the preference of “feeling”. Spending too much time making decisions based purely on objectivity can lead us to forget the human cost of our actions. Spending too much time making decisions based on how it will impact people may lead to decisions with unnecessary costs.
The key to learning from our mistakes is to utilize different methods of thinking to analyze what went wrong in the first place. Using the reflective, strategic, bottom-line and realistic thinking methods outlined in John Maxwell’s book How Successful People Think, will help you pull all of these lessons together. Reflect on how your thinking may have led you astray and led you down a path of error. Strategically look at how you can apply your strengths to your decisions across a wide range of decisions. Utilize realistic thinking to stay grounded in where you are, what you know, what you don’t know and what you should know. Employ bottom-line thinking to achieve purpose and consistency behind your thoughts, decisions and actions.
Remember, you are a leader. Your people look to you for their example of what to do, and what not to do. Focusing your attention on the possibilities available to you when you realize you have made a mistake will make it that much more likely that your people will follow suit. So the next time you realize you made a mistake, don’t feel ashamed, sad or disappointed. Instead, raise your hands high, follow the advice of Benjamin Zander in the Art of Possibility, and exclaim “HOW FASCINATING”. When you do, you will find your change in approach will guide you start thinking for a change.