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.