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Learn to Make Mistakes

Eric Sink, founder and CEO of SourceGear Corp., recently posted an essay titled "Career Calculus" in his blog. Starting with the question, "Who is responsible for your career?" he applies some introductory calculus to career development.

If it's true that C (cluefulness, or your overall capabilities) = G (gifting, or your natural abilities) + L (your rate of learning) * T (time), he posits that the only variable we can truly control is how much we learn — and what. By concentrating on L, the first derivative of that equation, instead of C, business leaders — as well as software developers, which Sink focuses on primarily — can improve their careers and companies.

"We want learning to be a process, not an event," Sink writes. "What opportunities do you have for learning on a typical day? The most important learning experiences in day-to-day work are the opportunities to learn from our mistakes."

Sink continues to suggest that the best way to learn from our mistakes is to process them with a mentor or peer instead of trying to hide them. "This goes against our natural tendency. When we foul something up, the last thing we want to do is shine a light on it so everyone can see what a bonehead we are," he adds. "What we really want to do is cover it up and hope nobody notices. But in doing so we miss a huge opportunity to increase our cluefulness."

By choosing to take the responsibility for managing our careers — instead of managing people's perception of us — we can avoid stagnation. That's not bad advice.

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  • Simon Cramond

    When learning, it's good to be aware of your personal style - uses a methodology that divides into 4 styles, one of which is 'reflective' - they provide excellent tools to improve the speed and effectiveness of learning

  • Curt Rosengren

    Yes! Throw that man a fish! In another post here I mentioned how debilitating an over-developed expectation of perfection can be when you are trying to embark on something new. This idea is the antidote to that (so if you're suffering from a bad case perfectionitis, uncork that bottle and take a big soup-spoon full - no, make that two!).

    Perfectionism has long been my bane. As a kid on vacation, while my siblings were happily slapping stickers willy nilly into their sticker books, I would wail if I got it slightly askew (you can imagine how relaxing this was for my parents).

    Fast forward a year or two, or thirty, to the time I was just starting to do my passion pursuit workshops. I didn't have Clue One about doing a workshop, but I knew the subject matter and I knew I had to take that first step. The day of the workshop I was starting to get spooled about the possibility that it wouldn't go perfectly, when I had an epiphany.

    If I did the workshop perfectly, I was cheating myself. Because the workshop wasn't just about the workshop - it was a step toward my longer term vision. If I did it perfectly, it would be because I didn't take any risk, and I wouldn't have learned anything.

    Seeing the workshop for what it really was - a step in the direction I wanted to go, rather than a destination - helped me let go of that need for perfection. More than that, it was a paradigm shift. Suddenly, imperfection was the more desirable outcome, because perfection wasn't going to move me any closer to where I wanted to go.