Seth Godin had a wonderful post earlier this week. Titled Lessons learned the hard way, Godin talks about the value of learning from our mistakes. Here is the full post:
It will be a long time before I spell “handkerchief” incorrectly. That’s because in third grade, I lost the entry round of the spelling bee to my friend Elisa because I got it wrong. Who knew that there was a “d”?
And now I know where I keep the thermos in my house. I spent twenty minutes looking for it the other day, and failed. A few days later, I came across it. Because of the previous challenge of missing it, my brain was on high alert when it finally appeared.
That’s how we learn most of the foundational things that we know, remember and care about–not through exposure, but through effort and failure.
That’s why tests aren’t nearly as useful as projects. Just about anything worth learning is worth learning the hard way.
Seth’s post immediately brought back memories from over 50 years ago, when I competed in our county’s spelling bee three years in a row. I still remember the three words I spelled incorrectly each year:
- alibi (I spelled it alabi)
- piccolo (I spelled it picollo)
- sarsaparilla (who knew that first “r” was there?)
Like Seth with handkerchief, I’ll never misspell those three words again.
Here are two more examples of when I learned from a mistake/failure.
I had written a post a few months ago where I talked about my wife and I going for a picnic at a local memorial park which we thought was just a fancy name for a park. We quickly learned that it was a cemetery. Now when we pass a memorial park or garden we laugh about how clueless we were but also recognize that we learned from that mistake, and we will never make it again.
One final example is exercising with stretch tubes. I was using tubes that were pretty old, and I was outside working out with them. I had wrapped the tubes around the handle on the front door of our house, stood back a few feet, and began pulling the tube towards me. The tube snapped, I fell backward, and I ended up breaking both my wrists. I will never use exercise tubes again.
So as Seth notes, That’s how we learn most of the foundational things that we know, remember and care about–not through exposure, but through effort and failure.
Failures can be valuable lessons, as long as we learn from them…