Cultivating a Learning Attitude

For most of us, the fear of failure is often more of a roadblock than failure itself. Instead of taking calculated risks in the pursuit of their goals, people give in to doubt and insecurity. Unwilling to try at all. But with the willingness to approach the potential of failure rationally, the calculated part of calculated risk can change one’s perspective on failure.

With the right attitude, mistakes become opportunities for growth and learning. And there are three key actions that foster an attitude of learning from failure. It starts with being willing to accept responsibility for your mistakes. Acknowledging that your own actions and decisions led to a failure is key to unlocking the benefits of failure. It’s that acceptance which allows you to learn from the ordeal. It goes deeper than simply owning up when you’re confronted on the matter. It’s the integrity to take responsibility.

Sometimes, even your best effort falls short. Own it. Once you do, you can dispassionately take the necessary steps to uncover the root cause of the mistake. What actually led to the error? As you explore the possible reasons, consider all the factors. Did you miss or misunderstand something? Was the process beyond your skill set? Was the failure caused by something beyond your control? Asking the right questions helps you pinpoint what went wrong, and then correct it.

Fear makes us want to give up. Rational questioning makes us want to try again. But be smarter about it. As much as the ideal is to prevent any subsequent failures when cultivating a learning mindset, sometimes the best way to prevent future mistakes is to scrutinize those already made. Rather than shy away from failure, it can help to get curious in the immediacy of what’s gone wrong. The military has been using this approach for decades in what’s known as an after action review, or AAR. AAR meetings take place immediately after a project milestone is reached or a portion of a task is completed.

Rather than assign blame, the focus is on gaining insight from the experience. Participation is vital in getting to the root of failure or success. Ask open-ended questions and encourage feedback. Compared to the actual outcome, what was originally expected? Were these expectations reasonable?

For example, a sales team may be required to sell 1,000 units per month, as part of a promotion. If during one month, they only manage 700 sales, an AAR helps uncover why. The key to a successful AAR is implementing the lessons learned so similar mistakes are evaded and best practices implemented. Every failure that comes from a well considered and thought through plan brings you ever closer to success. In business, as in all of life, avoiding failure ultimately means delaying success.

People, like organizations, must take risks in order to grow and thrive, and risk means sometimes failing. But how you react to failure, the attitude with which you approach it is the difference between ultimate growth and stagnation. With a learning attitude, every mistake is an opportunity for development.

No business, or the people who comprise it, can avoid failure entirely. Organizations can only ensure the same mistakes aren’t repeated. And try again. Smarter.

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