Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Mistakes that Win

We all make mistakes.

We all try to eliminate mistakes.

But sometimes, mistakes are our best friends.

One of most common mistakes is arrogance—the belief that we know what we're doing. When we're arrogant, we think our knowledge is complete—particularly in our own work.

Here's an example. Johanna Rothman asked me to write a foreword for her terrific book, Hiring the Best. As I read the book, I realized that Johanna had made a horrible mistake in marketing the book. She said the book was for managers who do the hiring, but what she failed to see about her own work was an even bigger audience: people trying to be hired. Fortunately, that mistake, that omission, could be easily corrected.

Of course, I never make such mistakes, right?


I recently began publishing a series of books on Experiential Learning. In response to the second volume, Jason Reid wrote the following letter:

I participated in PSL this past May. ... I recently had the opportunity to conduct "project debriefs" with several coworkers. We didn't have a standard at my company for how these meetings should run, so I was free to design the agendas. I don't recall what sparked the connection, but I eventually thought of your book, Experiential Learning 2: Invention, and of some of the knowledge invention activities we performed during PSL. I figured that those activities were designed to assist learning after hands-on experiences, and I thought, "What's more hands-on than actual work?" So I determined that my goal for the debriefs would be to help my coworkers learn from their experiences on their projects, and your book was a gold mine for questions to ask them.

Each meeting went very well and I enjoyed them immensely. I lost count of the number of times I heard, "That's a great question!" from the person I was helping. While the mechanics of the meetings were limited to one-on-one discussion, I look forward to incorporating more of the activities in your book into future debriefs.

I now have a bruise on my forehead, from slapping myself when I read Jason's letter. He had caught me making the same mistake I had caught Johanna making: underestimating the market for my own book.

Fortunately, from now on, I will remind people that Experiential Learning 2 : Invention is "a gold mine" of questions and exercises useful for conducting retrospectives. If that leads people to read the book, then I have managed to profit from a friend pointing out my arrogance and stupidity.

Are your friends helpful in this way?