5 Steps to Learn from your Mistakes

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Decision-making and Valuation > Best Practices > 5 Steps to Learn from your Mistakes

5 Steps to Learn from your Mistakes
Anneke Zwart, Student (University), Netherlands, Moderator
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

5 Steps to Learn from Your Mistakes
Abid Bilal, Manager, Pakistan, Member
In my opinion, the above elaboration is purely based on the theoretical aspects. In practice, sometimes the decision is correct, but the outer forces do not accept it and cause its failure, the reason being it causes a bad impact on these outer forces.

How to Learn from Mistakes
Jaap de Jonge, Editor, Netherlands
Thanks Anneke for contributing this excellent summary of Roese's setback analysis method.
At first Roese's 5 Steps may seem a bit complex - they require some initial effort in order to fully comprehend and apply them.
But in my opinion, when you and your organization want to learn from major setbacks, I believe the 5 questions provide excellent guidance!
@Abid Bilal: I believe Roese's framework can be used to analyze both external and internal forces / factors.

How to Learn from Personal Mistakes
Eugene Laslo, Consultant, Hungary, Member
According to Scott Berkun, learning from your mistakes first requires 3 things:
1. Putting yourself in situations where you can make interesting mistakes.
2. Having the self-confidence to admit to them.
3. Being courageous about making changes.
As soon as you start blaming other people (or the whole world) you distance yourself from any possible lesson. You should rather have the courage to honestly say to yourself “this was my mistake and I was responsible”. Then you pen up possibilities to learn.

Learning as a Return on Failure
Gandhi Heryanto, Management Consultant, Indonesia, Premium Member
See also the interesting article about Return on Failure (ROF) of Innovations related to this discussion topic.
So, what is failure? When things don't go according to plan or expectations, ending up with unexpected and/or undesired outcomes. The key is the ' undesired ' – because if they were to be desired and not planned or expected, that would be great!. We've heard the phrase "fail often, fail fast, fail cheap" or "it's OK to make mistakes, just make different ones." So, can we do a better job of learning from failure? So, and check my 'math':
ROF = Failure Identification + Failure Analysis applied over and over... Iterative Prototyping & Experimenting.

Lessons Learned
nan zeng, Project Manager, China, Member
@Abid Bilal: No victim. No matter how difficult the outer forces look like, the decision maker or executive team have to deal with them and make sure the expected results are delivered in the end. Otherwise, they have to go back to look at lessons learned - probably, stakeholder management in case of your assumption.

Learning from Mistakes and Avoiding Mistakes
Victor Manuel Meneses Torres, Consultant, Mexico, Member
I would like to add another question to ask. Since if we don´t know enough about the subject, we are closer to commit mistakes and get bad outcomes.
The question is:
6. What should we learn to avoid mistakes and achieve better results next time?

What Should we Learn to Avoid Mistakes?
Jaap de Jonge, Editor, Netherlands
@Victor Manuel Meneses Torres: I like your additional question a lot as it specifically points to (lack of) learning as a factor causing the setback/mistake.

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