I’ve been listening to the audiobook of “Black Box Thinking” where Matthew Syed looks at how we handle mistakes. The “Black Box” (which is actually orange) is the hard drive on a plane that records flight data and cockpit conversations to allow for diagnosing what went wrong after an incident. Its purpose isn’t to hold a person accountable necessarily but to learn from the mistake, preventing a similar thing happening in the future.
If someone makes a mistake we are quick to point the finger. When blame is involved, it undermines openness and learning from the experience. Therefore we must use mistakes as learning tools in order to gain wisdom. In order to do this we must be aware of the ego. In this scenario, the ego is the part of us that holds our opinions of the world around us. The ego has the potential to make us completely oblivious to life-threatening mistakes happening right in front of our eyes. We must then work to see things objectively, to see things as they are not just as how we perceive them. This is difficult. Reprogramming years, possibly decades of personal bias. This is why some of us learn from our mistakes while others can never succeed. Our black boxes, our brains, like to edit our mistakes so much so that we may not even see them as mistakes at all.
Success only happens when we admit our mistakes and learn from them. The world we live in is such an incredibly complex place, it would be impossible to account for all variations and conditions, making failures inevitable. When mistakes happen, don’t immediately resort to blaming someone else or moving on, analyse what went wrong and why. What could have been done differently?
Another idea is that of the pre-mortem. Prior to beginning a major project, assemble everyone together and assume the project has run its course and is now a huge embarrassing failure. What are some ways we could have prevented this outcome? How did the failure come about? Some may look at this as being pessimistic whereas others see this as realistic ways of solving problems before they happen.
I will finish with an extract from Joan Didions’ piece on self-respect. It’s about how we can act in a way that makes us proud of who we are and live a fulfilling life. Being honest with ourselves and acknowledging our mistakes.
“Self-deception remains the most difficult deception. The tricks that work on others count for nothing in that well-lit back alley where one keeps assignations with oneself; no winning smiles will do here, no prettily drawn lists of good intentions. One shuffles flashily but in vain through ones’ marked cards the kindness done for the wrong reason, the apparent triumph which involved no real effort, the seemingly heroic act into which one had been shamed. The dismal fact is that self-respect has nothing to do with the approval of others… However long we postpone it, we eventually lie down alone in that notoriously uncomfortable bed, the one we make ourselves. Whether or not we sleep in it depends, of course, on whether or not we respect ourselves… Self-respect…has nothing to do with the face of things, but concerns instead a separate peace, a private reconciliation… People with self-respect exhibit a certain toughness, a kind of moral nerve… Self-respect is…a certain discipline, the sense that one lives by doing things one does not particularly want to do, by putting fears and doubts to one side, by weighing immediate comforts against the possibility of larger, even intangible, comforts…. Self-respect is a discipline, a habit of mind that can never be faked but can be developed, trained, coaxed forth.”