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Make New Mistakes
Mistakes help you learn. But repeating them needlessly isn't learning either.
People can learn from anything. An expensive but effective way is to learn from making your own mistakes. A cheaper way is to learn from other people’s mistakes.
Avoiding mistakes at any costs, therefore, is a bad idea. It stunts your rate of learning. Avoiding trying anything new is a good way to avoid making any mistakes.
Conclusion #1: Be tolerant of mistakes.
At the same time, making your own mistakes doesn’t automatically lead to learning. For example, if you’re making the same mistakes repeatedly, clearly it means you’re not learning from them either.
Why would anyone make the same mistakes repeatedly?
Maybe the mistake itself isn’t painful. Maybe you’re just unaware. Think of someone you know who keeps having their relationships failed in similar ways.
Conclusion #2: Being too tolerant of mistakes, to the point you’re repeating them, is bad too.
How do you reconcile these two seemingly contradictory conclusions about making mistakes?
My suggestion is the mantra: make NEW mistakes.
Checklist to Ensure Mistakes You Make are Always New
If the mantra is sufficient, then great. In case, it’s not enough and you find yourself unwittingly repeating old mistakes, here’s a checklist:
✅ Acknowledge: Are you even aware you’re making a mistake in the first place?
✅ Diagnose: Have you slowed down to properly diagnose the root cause of the mistake?
✅ Solve: Is there a good solution to fix the mistake or prevent it from happening in the future?
✅ Sticky: Is the solution sticky? Are you liable to repeat it again?
✅ Expand: It’s easy to avoid future mistakes by doing less. Are you choosing a solution that expands you or shrinks you?
An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.
— Niels Bohr
If Niels Bohr is right, how fast you become an expert in your chosen field may rely on you having a high throughput of making (and avoiding the repeat of) mistakes. If so, I hope the checklist helps.
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