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Mistakes, Errors, and Humility

If you've made a mistake, raise your hand...great. If you've learned something from your mistakes, leave your hand up...great! If you've used what you've learned from your mistakes to prevent it from happening again, keep your hand up...great! If you've used what you've learned from your mistakes and applied it to a different situation, that's learning agility.

The Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology uses the following to define learning agility:

Learning agility refers to a person’s desire and ability to learn from experience and then apply their learning to other situations.

People with a greater ability for learning agility take more control over their learning by finding opportunities to grow, requesting feedback about their work, and consistently engaging in self-reflection and evaluation regarding their work and careers.

Mistakes? So where is this leading, you might ask?


Let's look at mistakes and errors as a starting point.

Mistakes imply a misconception or inadvertence and usually express less criticism than an error.

An error suggests a standard or guide exists, and one did not use it effectively, instead straying from the right course, resulting in failure.

Regarding the error, the standard or guide may be written, verbally agreed to, or perhaps an unwritten, unspoken cultural norm that exists. The key to mistakes and errors is learning from them and leveraging that experience for other situations. This requires us to have the courage to take risks, be creative and innovative and know that we might fail.

Which leads me to humility.

Humility is the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people: the quality or state of being humble. If one believes they are better than others, they are also inclined to think they do not make mistakes or errors. We all know someone who has never backed down for fear of being perceived as weak or dismissing other's ideas just because it's not aligned with their ideas for fear of being wrong or ignoring valid performance feedback for fear of actual self-reflection.

To overcome fear, Bill Treasurer, author of Courage Goes to Work, proposes a bold antidote: courage. Courage is not fearlessness; it is being fearful and overcoming that fear. When someone says, "That was a humbling experience," they are saying, "Before that situation, I felt I was better than the other people involved, and now I don't." They overcame their fears of self-awareness. When practiced often, this can lead to higher learning agility. So, those people we know who fear making mistakes and errors and lack humility must learn to have courage first to overcome whatever they fear.

Whether we make a mistake, commit an error, or outright fail at something, we must recognize we have a choice to learn from the situation. To understand and apply it to a new situation, we must overcome our fears by demonstrating humility and courage.

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