In 2019 Yang Wang, professor of management and organization at the Kellogg School, conducted a study to identify what differentiates successful people from those who fail. After analyzing hundreds of thousands of data, he comes to the following conclusion:
Successful people are those who learn more than others from their mistakes.
So far nothing surprising you will tell me, we suspect that learning from your mistakes is essential to succeed. But what the study clarifies is that there is a kind of critical learning threshold that determines the success of people. If they are below this threshold, they will be doomed to fail again and again, no matter how many times they try. If they are on top, however, their success is almost guaranteed because each failed attempt will bring them closer to their goal.
What this means is that 2 people can have identical profiles, have gone to the same schools, have the same network, the same financial situation, the same state of mind, try the same number of times… and end up with diametrically opposed results because one was able to learn more from its mistakes than the other.
People on either side of the threshold can be exactly the same and yet have 2 completely different results.
To increase your chances of success, you must therefore learn as much as possible from your mistakes to evolve above the critical learning threshold. Now, what to do?
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1. Learn from mistakes by accepting them
To learn from your experiences, you must accept your mistakes and admit that you were wrong, otherwise you will never be able to learn from them later.
To give you an example, a few years ago, I managed a marketing agency. At the time, I had no experience in sales and I did not know how to negotiate or manage clients.
One day, a TPE boss books a call with me to find out more about our services. The day of the appointment, he calls me 30 minutes late without apologizing (it’s already off to a bad start). I ask her a few questions to find out more about her needs and I explain how our services can help her. Every time I speak, he cuts me off.
When I give him the price of our services, he laughs in my face, telling me that it is too expensive and tries to negotiate. As I need to bring in new contracts, I reluctantly accept its terms (the classic rookie mistake)
The following weeks, the client is unbearable. He keeps calling me, he micromanages everything I do, when I don’t answer him right away, he blames me for it, he always asks me for more than what was expected… In short, I’m living in hell.
After a month, I decide not to renew the contract and to stop working with him. When he hears the news, he bursts into anger and refuses to pay the rest of the benefit for the work done. Even today this client owes me 400€.
Following this bad experience, I could have put the blame on the customer and played the role of the victim. I could have told myself that this world is unfair and that people are dishonest. But reacting that way would have done me nothing.
Instead, I admitted that I had made a mistake and should never have made the decision to work with him. By admitting my fault, I was able to learn lessons that still serve me today.
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2.Learn from mistakes by documenting them
Taking notes is the best way to learn from mistakes.
The problem with keeping everything in our head is that we are much more likely to be trapped by our cognitive biases. For example, we will give disproportionate attention to our recent errors and neglect the oldest ones (availability bias). Or we will involuntarily distort the memory of our past decisions to support the beliefs we have about ourselves (choice support bias). And because of that, we keep making the same mistakes over and over without even realizing it.
To prevent this from happening, you should document your mistakes by writing them down in a note-taking app like Notion or Evernote. To do this, you just need to create a new note and describe your error in detail as if you were explaining it to someone else. You can also add a date to contextualize it. Once your note has been created, you can revisit it whenever you want to remember in detail and thus limit your biases.
Personally, I use a Notion database for this. In it, I write down all my experiences and all the mistakes I have made.
That way, when I’m about to make an important decision, all I have to do is go to my database and do a quick search to find similar old decisions. It’s a great way to revisit my past experiences and prevent myself from making the same mistakes again.
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We all know that to be successful you have to learn from your mistakes. What is less known, however, is that there is a critical learning threshold. If you stay below this threshold, you are doomed to fail. If you are on top success is almost guaranteed.
To maximize your chances of success, you must use 2 strategies:
Accept your mistakes: you must first recognize that you made a mistake in order to learn from your experiences.
Document your mistakes: Every time you make a mistake, write it down in an app like Notion or Evernote to remember it in detail and limit your cognitive biases.
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