5 Steps to Learn from your Mistakes

Decision-making and Valuation


Best Practices
Anneke Zwart
Student (University), Netherlands

5 Steps to Learn from your Mistakes

We all know that making mistakes is needed to learn from them, in order to do things better in the future. Indeed, people are often told to learn from mistakes, to maximize return on failure. But how exactly should we deal with moments of failure? Roese (2016) developed a mental protocol based on counterfactual thinking with 5 steps that one can use in such setback situations. It is a set of short, but structured questions you need to ask (yourself) to recover and learn from setbacks:
    In what way could the outcome be different in a positive way?
    It is important to focus on your own actions and the way those actions change in order to positively change the outcome.
    What other path would have lead to a better outcome?
    The reason why two alternative paths need to be envisaged has to do with the prevention of hindsight bias: the tendency to start seeing the event as having been predictable all along (without any objective basis for this predictability). A second path withholds you from ascribing your failure towards one pat reason.
    How could a different path perhaps have been a different overall experience, but still have lead to the same result?
    It is important to question yourself in what way this different path would still lead to the same outcome. This step tries to uncover the barriers that might have not been easily noticeable.
    How could the same path lead to another outcome?
    This step makes you more aware of the randomness in outcomes. Indeed, a certain path taken at some point in time can have a tremendously different outcome compared to the same path taken at another point in time, due to the existence of outside forces. The fourth step may help you to think about backup plans to deal with those external factors.
    In what way could the outcome have been worse in a negative way?
    Not only does this step serve as a feel-good tactic, it also helps to better understand the situation.
To summarize, above five steps help you to create a nuanced picture of the situation. After having finished the above steps you are better able to identify the true causes of the actual outcome. The different paths leading to a better outcome provide you with a base for enhancing your behavior/performance next time. Naturally, those alternative paths will not be taken precisely. They just provide you new possible tactics.

Sources: Roese, N.J. (2016) "5 Steps to Help Yourself Recover from a Setback" Harvard Business Review


Abid Bilal
Manager, Pakistan

5 Steps to Learn from Your Mistakes

In my opinion, the above elaboration is purely based on the theoretical aspects. In practice, someti... Sign up

Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

How to Learn from Mistakes

Thanks Anneke for contributing this excellent summary of Roese's setback analysis method. At first ... Sign up

Eugene Laslo
Consultant, Hungary

How to Learn from Personal Mistakes

According to Scott Berkun, learning from your mistakes first requires 3 things: 1. Putting yourself... Sign up

Gandhi Heryanto
Management Consultant, Indonesia

Learning as a Return on Failure

See also the interesting article about Return on Failure (ROF) of Innovations related to this discus... Sign up

nan zeng
Project Manager, China

Lessons Learned

@Abid Bilal: No victim. No matter how difficult the outer forces look like, the decision maker or ex... Sign up

Victor Manuel Meneses Torres
Consultant, Mexico

Learning from Mistakes and Avoiding Mistakes

I would like to add another question to ask. If we don't know enough about the subject, we are more ... Sign up

Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

What Should we Learn to Avoid Mistakes?

@Victor Manuel Meneses Torres: I like your additional question a lot as it specifically points to a ... Sign up

Scott Xe
Manager, Hong Kong

How to Learn from Mistakes? Identify Own Deficiencies First!

When we're required to write the lessons learnt, in most cases, the writers often do not point out o... Sign up

Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

Do People Learn from Their Mistakes?

According to conventional wisdom, we can learn from the mistakes we make. But do we actually learn f... Sign up

Helen Strong
Business Consultant, South Africa

Start with Checking what Exactly Happened

Totally agree that you should learn from your mistakes. However the first question should be: 'Exact... Sign up

Maurice Hogarth
Consultant, United Kingdom

The Management of Mistakes

From SUCCESS I can learn what to do to repeat that success. From FAILURE I can learn what not to do... Sign up

Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

5 Steps to Learn Form a Personal Setback

@Maurice Hogarth: Thanks for sharing your ideas. I believe Roese's 5 steps are clearly about HOW AN ... Sign up


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