Intentionally Avoiding Mistakes Is A Mistake

There is a deep fallacy in early education. Perfection is not of value. Life is too complex for perfection. High marks incentivize people to seek right answers instead of trying things hard enough to result in mistakes. There is no way to grow without risking error.

If you don’t make mistakes, you’re doing it wrong. If you don’t correct those mistakes, you’re doing it really wrong. If you can’t accept that you’re mistaken, you’re not doing it at all.” Richard P. Feynman

If you don’t see that mistakes are possible, even probable, you will never grow much.

Perfect is a trap

If you follow professional baseball you know a hitter who bats .300 is an all star. Highly paid and sought after.

What is the meaning of that, aside from his value to the team and relative scarcity? He fails 70% of the time. What happens to hitters who focus on failure instead of success. They fail more.

If a person learns a little from mistakes and adds those bits of experience to their overall abilities, they flourish. If they avoid mistakes, they will never have a career in a difficult occupation, never mind success in it.

Mistakes permit useful growth

Cartoonist Scott Adams is a student of things that don’t work. His production “Dilbert” is common reading in business. Elon Musk has cautioned executives to avoid decisions that will end up as the subject matter in a Dilbert strip. Adams is a fan of mistakes. They are where the lessons live. You might find his book, “How To Fail At Almost Everything And Still Win Big.” a useful addition to your library. Its ideas will be of great use to young people.

Freedom from the fear of mistakes is an empowering attitude.

Learning from experience is the most useful

The key is to choose the experiences with the most useful lessons.

The most useful lessons will be found in experiments that provide an opportunity to see something you cannot find anywhere else. Those also have the highest expectation of failure. The rule is simple. Don’t experiment with things that have been tested,. You can learn what you need elsewhere,. Don’t experiment with situations where the cost of a mistake will be greater than the value of any lesson learned. There is a functionally useful space between.

Experience is both expensive and valuable. Acquire the ability to distinguish when experimental knowledge is worth acquiring.

Categorize your information and knowledge

Disconnected information and knowledge is fun to acquire, but it is not likely additive to your ability to use it. Look for categorizing methods that lead to wisdom. When you think about it, wisdom is about effectively using what you know.

Once you categorize, you will be able to see the holes in what you know. The responsible action is to fill those or to build a team that fills them for you. Never overlook the ability to use your team.

Understand your purpose

You need not be the best at everything you might do. In fact, you should focus on the things you are best at. If a team member is less skilled at some part of what must be done, does not mean you should do those tasks instead. Consider a lawyer who is a better typist than any of the secretaries. The reality is they are, by a wide margin, a better lawyer than the secretaries, The secretaries may be only slightly weaker as typists. Think synergy. The key is to get the best overall outcome, not highest performance at specific tasks.

Know when “polymath” is necessary

In his prime, Tiger Woods was near the best at every aspect of golf. There are few situations in life where that is necessary. Life is easier and results better if you use specialists to supplement your skills.

In a somewhat inappropriate analogy, consider the world record for the men’s 400 meter race. 43.03 seconds. For comparison, the world record for the men’s 4×100 relay is 36.84 seconds. 6.17 seconds at 400 meter champion speeds in is a 57 meter margin.

There are no businesses that require polymath thinking. Teams are a clear advantage.

Be willing to make the mistakes necessary to build a strong team.

I met a man once who had on his office wall a diploma from the “Betty Crocker Cooking School.”  It was the only diploma on the wall. I asked him about it and he acknowledged it was his only.  His reason made sense. “I can hire all the PHDs or MBAs I need. Who has time to learn all those skills, if you have the ability to get the knowledge in another way.”

The takeaway

Build teams and networks.

Bury your ego. If you manage properly, you don’t need to be the best at anything. If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.

Value your mistakes and accept the lesson.

Seek non-lethal challenges to improve your skills.

You’ll have to overcome your native risk aversion.

“Many times what we perceive as an error or failure is actually a gift. And eventually we find that lessons learned from that discouraging experience prove to be of great worth.” Richelle E. Goodrich

I help people have more retirement income and larger, more liquid estates.

Call in Canada 705-927-4770, or email

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