Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Engineering, Failure Analysis and Life

Ian McKenzie has a great post on How to Learn from Your Mistakes. It reminds me of my training as an engineer. Engineers study failures as part of our profession. Not only because failures are inevitable, but also because we can learn so much from them. An added benefit, I think, is that learning from failure helps to keep you humble and in the end more diligent about your own work. There's even an entire discipline of engineering called failure analysis. I think other disciplines and non-engineers would be well-served to spend some time studying their own failures and well-known failures in their discipline and outside their discipline. The Hyatt Regency walkway collapse would be a good one to start with.
Here are five ways to learn from a mistake and then let it go

  1. When you make a mistake, own up and look for ways to correct what you’ve done wrong.
  2. Focus on what you can learn from the error. If you were careless, be more attentive to what you are doing. If the process was flawed, look at ways to do it better.
  3. Eliminated the negative. The first response of your inner voice is to start being self-critical. Negative self-talk, whether internal or external, will eat away at your self-esteem. Switch the soundtrack. Remind yourself of the things that you are doing well or focus on the changes you are making.
  4. If you have or could have harmed someone with your mistake, own up to it, make amends by apologizing, learn the lesson, commit to not repeating it, and then let it go.
  5. Understand, the emotional energy expended being unkind to yourself could be better invested in finding a solution to problems created by your mistakes.

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