Several conversations with colleagues recently have raised interesting questions about how different people define a mistake… is it something that we did but it had an unexpected or unanticipated outcome? Is it something we hoped would achieve a particular thing and we discovered it wouldn’t or didn’t? Perhaps we did something and didn’t follow the rules, recipe or procedure and got less than optimal results…
Maybe we even did something which worked exactly as we thought it might and then discovered that we didn’t really want that particular outcome at all.
There are many variations on this theme but the common factor, however you define or describe them, is that they only seem mistakes with hindsight, the apparent benefit of being able to look back on the decision we made at some time in the past. At the time we made the conscious or non-conscious decision to do whatever we did, presumably we were at least optimistic about a successful outcome or the chances of success. Even if we knew we were bending the rules or taking a shortcut, we still had hope of success.
The thing about planning, and in particular about planning in the real world for real lives, is that you can only do so much anticipation.
If a decision is important I’m a great believer in anticipation and thinking through the likely consequences but too much thinking is often an excuse for procrastination or leads to analysis paralysis.
If you sit down and painstakingly calculate all the possible outcomes and all the possible options of any choice you might care to make, it’s almost certain to be impossible to do with any significant degree of accuracy and, in real life, the situation will have changed by the time you get to your decision requiring an equally painful recalculation procedure.
In neurolinguistic programming, one of the useful presuppositions is “there is no failure, only feedback”.
Similarly, in neurobehavioural modelling, a “mistake” is the only decision that could have been made with the information and conditions prevailing at the time of the decision. By definition then, it was a good call (not a mistake) that provided further information which allows us to make a different decision next time round!
The skill then is in choosing how much effort to invest in planning or anticipation compared to effort invested in taking action.
Without action there are no results. Without results you can’t evaluate your decisions – was it a wise choice or not?
The benefit from any decision comes in making time to reflect on what is learned from results achieved and reflection is often the most neglected part of the process.
So today, as you go about your life, don’t worry so much about whether you are making mistakes; instead ask yourself whether you are allowing enough time for reflection and for learning. It’s likely to be of more value in the long run!