meaningofstrife

Seeing the best in life's challenges

No more mistakes and you’re through!

on January 30, 2012

Another find from the recent “cleaning binge”, is an article I saved from Forbes Magazine, from May 16, 1988.  It’s an article about John Cleese – yes, the Monty Python guy.

The article is about corporate culture, and a speech that Cleese made entitled “The Importance of Mistakes.”  Here are some quotes from Cleese:

“I want to suggest to you that unless we have a tolerant attitude toward mistakes—I might almost say a positive attitude toward them—we shall be behaving irrationally, unscientifically and unsuccessfully.”

“It’s self-evident that if we can’t take the risk of saying or doing something wrong our creativity goes right out the window.  Because the essence of creativity is not the possession of some special talent, it is much more the ability to “play.”

“For a group to function more creatively, people must lose their inhibitions.  They must gain the confidence to contribute spontaneously to what’s happening, and the inhibition arises because of the fear of looking foolish.  Yes!  It’s nothing more than the fear of making mistakes.”

Cleese talks about how viewing mistakes as “bad” leads to either denial or rationalization, or concealing them.  When this happens, when mistakes “go underground”, they are harder to fix.

“Now we reach the real problem.  If all the evidence from business, science and psychology suggests that the best results are obtained by risking mistakes, and by having a positive attitude toward them when they occur, why are we all so nervous about making them?”

“I’m sure that the answer is quite simply that we all have these ridiculous things called egos.  Once you’ve got an ego, you want to be right.”

So, my question is, how do I view mistakes?  (even big ones or really “bad” ones?)  Do I pretend they didn’t happen?  Do I make myself believe that, well, I didn’t really mean it anyway, and so it doesn’t really matter?  Do I keep them to myself?

It’s unrealistic to think that I will never make a mistake.  I’ve made plenty.  It’s just the way life is.  If I am afraid to take chances, act on a hunch, take a leap of faith, do something crazy every once in a while….well, where will that get me?  If I can overcome the fear of making mistakes, and be willing to face the inevitable feedback of making a mistake, I will learn from the ones I make and I will get better at avoiding the pitfalls.  I won’t be afraid to TRY.

Then, the next step is that I will become tolerant of the mistakes of others.  I will remember that we as human beings have this in common.  I will be less quick to judge another.

Seeing mistakes this way is part of the process of moving past the mindset of “right” and “wrong”.  I’ve said it before, the fastest way to stall your ability to learn from a situation is to get stuck in the process of figuring out who to blame.  If you find yourself using phrases like “They should know better,” and “I can’t believe that he/she would do this or that,” stop and ask yourself if there’s another way to look at the situation.

I am NOT saying we shouldn’t evaluate our actions and avoid making the same mistakes over again.  We ARE talking about mistakes here – all of us do things that, in hindsight, we hope we wouldn’t do again if we had that chance.  (This thinking occurs when we have learned from our mistakes!)

There’s that definition of insanity that goes something like “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.”  If you do not face your mistakes and evaluate them, life will continue to present you will the same opportunity to learn, again and again, until you deal with the feedback and make some adjustments.

The next step in the process is to SHARE your mistakes.  As Cleese says, “The most effective way that we can create an atmosphere of tolerance and positiveness toward mistakes is, of course, to model it.”


4 responses to “No more mistakes and you’re through!

  1. Alyce Vollmar says:

    Oh, so true. I find that I’ve become more forgiving of my own mistakes, and those of others, as I’ve made my way through the years. I’ve noticed, as this process has unfolded, that many people simply cannot tolerate self-forgiveness. How cheeky of her, I can hear them say to themselves, to gloss over her missteps! But that’s hardly the case; I just find that beating myself up really does, as you point out, stall our progress in these very important lessons in the art of living!

  2. Leslie says:

    You’re busy today! From a person who makes PLENTY of mistakes, I can relate.
    Good job.

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