Alice: Where I come from, people study what they are not good at in order to be able to do what they are good at.
Mad Hatter: We only go around in circles in Wonderland, but we always end up where we started. Would you mind explaining yourself?
Alice: Well, grown-ups tell us to find out what we did wrong, and never do it again.
Mad Hatter: That’s odd! It seems to me that in order to find out about something, you have to study it. And when you study it, you should become better at it. Why should you want to become better at something and then never do it again? But please continue.
Alice: Nobody ever tells us to study the right things we do. We’re only supposed to learn from the wrong things. But we are permitted to study the right things other people do. And sometimes we’re even told to copy them.
Mad Hatter: That’s cheating!
Alice: You’re quite right, Mr. Hatter. I do live in a topsy-turvy world. It seems like I have to do something wrong first, in order to learn from what not to do. And then, by not doing what I’m not supposed to do, perhaps I’ll be right. But I’d rather be right the first time, wouldn’t you?
Ah, the wonderful world of learning! Did you ever imagine a point in your life that you would go to the school of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson? Neither did I, but mainly because I had no idea who that is! Now, if you clarified that as the real name of Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland, I would still say no, but at least I would know who you were speaking of.
In the short interaction above, the Hatter is actually quite sharp and offers a riddle worthy of solving (for once). “Why should you want to become better at something and then never do it again?” Why do we often focus on learning so much about the things we did wrong in order to avoid recreating past mistakes? Instead, should we not focus and learn the correct behavior and actions ahead of time?
Many, many years ago my father gave me a piece of advice that has stuck with me to this day. “You don’t have enough time to learn from all your mistakes, so you might as well learn from others.” If I focus my energies on learning from my mistakes, I will not have the time to learn positive traits ahead of the mistakes. I will find myself in this perpetual state of continuing to react to my incorrect actions and behavior, without ever improving my ability to make rational decisions.
The first aspect is as a Project Manager, one of the primary lessons that I have learned and continue to learn is that it is easier to be proactive and resolve issues ahead of time than to react and correct issues after the fact. *Note: That does not mean I have mastered it, but I am working on it okay! The reason? When things go wrong, and they inevitably will, emotions get involved, things have to be researched, explanations have to be given, corrections have to be researched, corrections have to be made, corrections have to be validated, corrections have to be explained, and scores of documentation need to be updated. Now, given that same scenario, if we were proactive, the only action needed is to do it right the first time and save time.
The second aspect is that it is all in the attitude. Everyone wants to win! If you find yourself continuing to “learn from mistakes”, eventually you will begin to feel like you are the mistake. For example, take a few moments and glance through www.despair.com, and you might find http://www.despair.com/mis24x30prin.html. If we continue to learn from our mistakes, and not learn ahead of time the correct actions, it will eventually affect our attitudes. Perhaps it will lead to negative interactions with our co-workers, and our bosses. All of these things will eventually drain you to the point of collapse.
Last, I leave you with this small piece of advice. Take a moment and examine whatever it is that you have in front of you. What pitfalls do you see ahead? What mistakes have you seen others make travelling that same road? What can you do to prepare yourself for that moment? If you can begin to incrementally get ahead of the mistake curve you just might escape the Hatter and the March Hare trying to shove your head into a teapot.