Learn From Your Mistakes

01/25/2013 06:40 pm ET Updated Mar 27, 2013

He who suspects that he is always wrong is right on track

Francisco de Quevedo

Almost a year ago I was in Long Beach to attend the TED conference. Most of you are familiar with TED. It's an organization dedicated to spreading revolutionary ideas to improve our world.

Meanwhile, reviewing my notes I'd also like to reflect on some of my past favorites. I often speak about leadership in this space and have commented that the most important role of a leader in any organization is to make good, well-grounded judgments that lead to informed decisions and good results.

But what happens if you make bad decisions? Does this mean that you're a bad leader? Not necessarily.

What's important is first to recognize that we're all are prone to error. And when mistakes happen, we have to be able to take steps to reverse their consequences. I myself have committed a considerable number of errors, some of them with million dollar price tags, but I also try to be quick to recognize them, reverse them and, most importantly, learn from them.

At the TED forum in 2011, I met a writer who has devoted her life to the study of human error, Kathryn Schulz, who believes that we must embrace and even celebrate our mistakes.

I would not go that far, but the truth is that mistakes are the most valuable learning opportunity we have. What is important is to accept them, understand them, and take advantage of the opportunity that they provide us to improve, without evading our responsibility.

It's hard to say I was wrong, but if we recognize that we have made a mistake and we let go of our fears, we can fully analyze the process that led us to make the wrong decision.

According to Schulz, we are often caught up in an unhealthy need to feel that we are right and we are blinded by this. In analyzing our errors we should avoid mixing in our feelings and recognize that, often, mistakes just happen.

Paradoxically, it is a mistake to think that success is synonymous with never being wrong. To think that we are always right can be quite dangerous.

Nobody is perfect. Anyone who thinks this way suffers from what Schulz calls "hubris nemesis," which translated from Greek roughly means that your arrogance can be your worst enemy.

Schulz also reminds us that the word "error" comes from Latin and means "to wander." But this same ability to wander with our thinking is the source of creativity, so we should not punish the mistake at all cost.

I do not celebrate mistakes, but I respect and appreciate those who are able to recognize them, take responsibility for them, and engender a learning process based on them.