There’s no doubt in my mind that learning from hard knocks, mistakes and experience is powerful learning. The more intense the damage, the stronger lesson learned.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said that “An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory”. You can learn a great deal from your actions, so long as you pay attention to the outcomes.
But not all ‘hard knocks’ bring about positive change. Whilst it would be nice to think that mistakes make us stronger, unfortunately sometimes they can knock confidence too, making us avoid doing certain things that might still be beneficial to do.
Perhaps the ultimate cost to a business owner is to lose their business. I’ve seen many people lose their business following certain mistakes, when I believe that they could have still made it work had they changed their approach.
This is reflected in the popular story of former IBM chairman Tom Watson, when an employee of his made a $100,000 mistake. His confidence, clearly knocked, led him to offer his resignation, to which Watson replied, “Are you kidding? We just spent $100,000 on your training”.
So which is more effective, the school of hard knocks, or purposeful learning of theory up front to avoid making mistakes?
Personally, and this might sound odd, I love making mistakes. I practically welcome them, because I know they make me stronger. They’re almost an investment in learning. I share Tom Watson’s attitude and this removes an element of fear in what I do. I make calculated decisions, and move forwards being open to the fact that I could be wrong and ready to learn if I am. But unlike Tom Watson’s employee, I don’t let loss of confidence affect me, because I remove that element from my decisions. I make my decisions based on what I should be doing in my work for the highest returns (financially, mentally and emotionally). Then I question my confidence levels and if I have to, I deal with them separately.
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I’m happy to make mistakes, but here’s the thing; I prefer to learn voraciously up front and not make those mistakes. I’d rather learn from my wins than my losses. If mistakes can be prevented, I’d like to know about it.
I see fellow business owners making simple mistakes whose preventions are well documented. People who’ve made these mistakes have often written about how to avoid them in popular business books. It’s agonising to see people not consider this and making life harder for themselves. It’s agonising to see them, perhaps obliviously, spend another day at the ‘School of Hard Knocks’.
Many people are proud of learning from experience rather than learning from theory. I think pride should only be derived from doing both. I learn from people who have made mistakes before me, I reflect on it, I emotionalise the lesson by vividly imagining the impact on my life, business and family if I was to make that mistake, and then I act and go for the experience part, and hopefully it’s a positive, lucrative, highly rewarding one! Regardless, I learn from it.
Personally, if I was only getting lessons from the School of Hard Knocks, I wouldn’t be proud. I’d wonder why I’m getting all these hard knocks. I’d want to transfer to ‘the School of Occasional Knocks’, and I’d make sure I’m always getting my extra homework done on time.
What do you think?