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Risks, Rewards, and Learning from Mistakes

By Dan Bobinski

It was one of those moments etched into my memory: Turning on the car radio and hearing, “The space shuttle disintegrated upon re-entry this morning.” My jaw dropped. “No,” I thought, “It can’t be.”

The date was February 1, 2003. People felt (and still feel) a lot of emotions regarding the Columbia tragedy. As I reflect on it, it occurs to me that pushing the envelope of mankind to engage in space travel has many parallels to the human spirit – and the human spirit is reflected in our world of work.

Consider this: The astronauts onboard Columbia knew the risks they were undertaking. Yet they so desired the reward that they assumed the risk. It was the same for Christopher Columbus. It was the same for America’s founding fathers, it was the same for Chuck Yeager (the first man to fly faster than sound), and it was the same for John Glenn. They wanted the rewards; they assumed the risks.

The same goes for any entrepreneur. The magnitude is different, as a businessperson’s risks are not so life and death, but someone who identifies a niche market and strives to develop a product or service to fill that niche risks much. The venture may fail and the person may end up financially depleted. But successful people risk, try to learn from their mistakes, and press on toward their rewards.

Thomas Edison was the subject of ridicule for working so hard to develop an electric light bulb. He risked his entire reputation (which was considerable) on the belief that it could be done. People were writing him off left and right, but Edison persevered and we’re all better off for it. It’s a perfect example of risk, making lots of mistakes, learning from those mistakes, and a subsequent reward in the business realm.

The Columbia disaster was a painful bump in the road of space exploration. Last week’s test of the foam impacting a wing assembly at 550 MPH proved almost assuredly that the breakaway foam was the cause of the Columbia disaster. Now NASA is taking pause to talk about this and learn from the mistakes.

According to the Associated Press, preliminary recommendations for future shuttle flights include improving launch photography, using spy satellites to check out orbiting spaceships, and devising an inspection and repair plan for astronauts in orbit. These are a few changes. Will more need be changed? You bet. But as we learn from mistakes and press on, we continue to reap rewards.

This applies to almost any workplace. One of the worst things we can do is simply punish employees who make a mistake. What a waste! What a loss! Yes, a mistake may be costly, but it’s even more costly not to learn from it.

One tenet of adult education is that tests are learning tools. Not only do they identify what a student knows, but they also identify what a student doesn’t know. And many students seek out the correct answer once they discover what they got “wrong” on a test. It’s learning from mistakes.

My strong recommendation? Make special effort to learn from mistakes in your workplace – You’ll have smarter and more effective employees in the long run.

Mistakes have been happening from the dawn of time, and we only progress when we learn from them. Every company and every employee makes mistakes, but some of our best work will appear when we learn from those mistakes and make improvements.


© 2003 Dan Bobinski / Leadership Development. Dan Bobinski is President of Leadership Development. He can be reached at (208) 375-7606 or by Email at dan@leadershipanswers.com.

     
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