Learning from one’s mistakes is a sure path to personal evolution. But it is also slow, painful and by definition led by failures. But what if we could find a better, more efficient ( and painless way) way to progress our career without having to fail ourselves?
Well, it turns out there is a way. It demands that one listens to others, identify their points of failure and make a mental note to not repeat these. I’ve first leant this as young cadet at the naval academy. Almost every week we were supposed to deliver briefings and debriefing about everything we did: cruises, field deployments, new procedures etc. many sleepless nights were spent preparing these tedious briefings, which were conducted according to meticulous instruction regarding the layout, appearance and content. Each of these briefings was a fertile grounds for our rather sadistic staff to criticize the person who would be delivering the brief. Anything was open to criticism, the way you talked, the way you stood in front of your audience, the color of your slide deck, the way your naval map was hanged (always bent). You were expected to write all these comments and improve for the next time. I quickly noticed something odd. No matter how proficient the cadet deliver the talk was, if he kept repeating the same mistakes as his predecessors he would have been scolded by the staff. So I figured- it was way easier to make the effort and record everything which was said, and quite simply, verify that you don’t make the same mistakes again. You could be terrible, and could be making a whole lot of new, totally unprofessional mistakes, but as long as you showed improvement over the last person you were Ok, and if you’ve put in the extra effort be even better, not simply average sans- mistakes, you would have been regarded as a prodigy. Later I’ve learnt that the same implies to managing people, not just yourself. While managing a small team of 3 employees at a very demanding project (coincidently, these were people I’ve known from my service at the Navy) I once rode in the car with my wife you was bitterly complaining about her direct manager. What she hated the most was her lack of appreciation to her hard work. It then struck me- could my employees be feeling the same about me? Sure, we talk every day and they know I appreciate their efforts, but have I ever stopped and told them so? The minute I got home I picked my phone, called every member of my team and acknowledged their efforts and contribution. They were surprised but knew this was coming from a sincere place so humbly thanked me. Since then I’ve tried to make a mental note regarding every annoying think that was done to me or my peers and friends by one of our managers or bosses. I’ve tried to do the exact opposite- provide feedback, always be available, abide to my promises etc. With time most of these became a natural habit, so I don’t need to remind myself to openly acknowledge my team or to write a thank-you note to everyone who’s helped me, including administrative assistances who help me schedule meetings (oops, I just remembered there’s an admin I need to thank for her help earlier today). So to conclude, it is possible to learn from someone else’s experience. I requires attention, discipline and diligence. It’s not easy, but learning the hard way is much harder, it is worth the effort.