Mistakes Are Not Learning

We hear this very often; Mistake is an opportunity to learn. However, this quote is incomplete because as you read it, the automatic understanding is when we make a mistake, we actually learn. It is as if the act of making mistake makes us learn. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as that. There is actually a process that we need to take the mistake through in order for it to be a learning. This is why a lot of our mistakes goes wasted because we don’t take those mistakes through the process needed for learning to emerge.

The process can be remembered by its acronym M.A.R.A.A. The pronunciation of this acronym sound similar to the Malay word mara which means moving forward; how appropriate J So, what does this acronym stands for? The poster below gives you the answer.

Let us now unpack each step of the process to appreciate this process.

ADMISSION is the second step and it is a crucial step because this is also the hardest step. Plenty a time we feel we have made a mistake yet we do not admit it. We brush it aside, sweep it under the carpet in hope we are not reminded of the mistake so that we can go on. This could be because of ego, shyness etc. Without us admitting that it was a mistake, we would not acknowledge its existence and more importantly we might not surrender to the fact that it was a mistake. This eliminates our ownership of the mistake such that we will be reluctant to embrace and study it which is needed in the third step.

MISTAKE is the start of this process. What is a mistake? A mistake is an act or judgement that didn’t produce the desired result. The mistake is not immediate a learning yet if we do not take it to the next step. 

REFLECTION is the third step. In this step, we will need to have the strength to look back at the mistake, however painful it is. That is why we need to admit it first. Here, we look at the event or series of events leading to the mistake. In a nutshell reliving it. That is why courage is needed in this process. It is important to stay neutral during this reflection so that we see the whole picture. Again admission helps in doing this. As we reflect neutrally, new data points will emerge to give us better all-round sense of what has happened. It is important for us to scan this mistake for us to be able to move onto the next step.

ANALYSIS is the fourth step in this process. What analysis? Analysis is a detailed examination of the elements or structure of something. Taking the data points available from the reflection, we now look at a couple of elements such as:

  • what elements were ‘right’ or effective and why it was so
  • what elements were ‘wrong’ or ineffective and why it was so
  • why did it happen the way it happened
  • what were the underlying factors that made it the way it was.

The above can also be called sense making. With these analysis we will than make some conclusions. This fourth step is where the learning emerges. However, it is still not truly a learning until we do something about it which is the last step in the process.

ACTIONING is the fifth and last step in the process. We than need to create some action to rectify or create a new path to result from the conclusion.  When this is done and we get the desired result we were aiming for, only then can we truly say the mistake is a learning for us based on the new result that we have created which is one that we desire.

In conclusion, mistakes are only learning if we embrace it, make sense of it and create a new reality from it. Otherwise, we are doomed to repeat it and not be able to create a new reality; a desired one.

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