Failure provides an excellent opportunity to learn. Don’t deny yourself the ability to grow from your greatest mistakes. However, it takes practice to turn a learning opportunity into a learning event, especially when you’re not comfortable with failure or don’t know how to learn from your errors. Consider these strategies to help you translate the lessons of failure into future success:
Talk positively about failure
Pretending it didn’t occur sends a message that failure is bad. Talking about failure in a positive way encourages us to see a learning opportunity rather than a devastating occurrence. Consider asking, “How did you fail this week?” of yourself, your staff, and your family. When we normalize and embrace failure it becomes easier to learn from our mistakes.
Identify how your actions contributed to the failure
This is where the real learning begins. It’s also where the process can become the most difficult. It is often easier to focus on the contribution others have made to this situation. If you are too quick to pass the blame, you’ll miss out on the best opportunity to learn. Ask yourself “What did I do/or not do?” Be objective. You may want to consider asking someone to help you. Self-reflection will become easier the more you talk positively about failure and identify the benefit mistakes provide.
Determine the root cause
The root cause is the real reason something happened. The closer you get to identifying the root cause the more you learn, the better you can plan, and the more likely you will be able to prevent a recurrence. Resist the urge to stop at superficial factors or contributors. Seek out the underlying reasons the failure occurred. Did you fail to make the cold call? The reason isn’t simply that you didn’t pick up the phone. Ask yourself what really contributed to the failure.
Make a plan to prevent a recurrence
The goal is to learn how to prevent failure from occurring in the future. Don’t become complacent; if you prevent one, there will still be many “excellent learning opportunities” coming your way. Create a goal and lay out a plan that addresses the root causes. Then get to work following the plan!
Change doesn’t have to be big to have an impact. A small change today will improve your ability to learn from failure. It may be taking time to examine rather than ignoring the mistake. Perhaps it’s asking “why” a few more times than you normally would, as you seek to identify a root cause. With a little bit of work you can reap the rewards of learning from your mistakes.