Rethinking Mistakes

Rethinking Mistakes

Rethinking Mistakes

My youngest son loves cooking and baking. Leave him in the kitchen and he is bound to cook up some recipe. The kitchen and the garden, is where he is most confident. Recently, he wanted to make his own version of a dumpling which turned out to be nothing like a dumpling at all, haha. He made puff pastry with a pesto filling which we shaped into various objects. To get his puff pastry a bit thinner, so we could fold it over, he began rolling it out. As a more experienced baker myself, I saw the problem looming. He didn’t prepare his surface with flour to stop the pastry from sticking once rolled out on a surface. But I stood back (as his sous chef) and watched him immerse himself fully in this task. Eventually though, when he wanted to lift the pastry, it was stuck. Instead of saying “I told you so”, I invited his curiosity and asked him what he thinks he can do to fix it. Barely two seconds had gone by and he started coming up with at least 3 ways to work around this. And just like that, he leveraged off his mistake and converted it into a deep learning opportunity. I was proud of him and proud of me for not stepping in.

I could have stepped in and told him that the pastry would stick. But he wasn’t ready to hear that yet. Which means, he wasn’t ready for the insight yet (knowing him and his highly experiential learning preference). The more exciting bit for me was using this seemingly micro experience to rethink mistakes. Too often I see parents, teachers, facilitators react negatively in that moment. We think it’s nothing and that we are doing the child good by shaming them for not thinking ahead. We associate shame with learning. The age old “it may hurt now but you’ll thank me later in life” mantra comes to the fore. By taking this approach though, we inadvertently begin to build a culture of shame and guilt around mistakes. And here’s the thing.

Mistakes are BEAUTIFUL. As Eduardo Briceno so beautifully states in his TEDTalk, mistakes show that we are taking the risks necessary for learning. In Sebastian’s case, the mistake led to a deeper level of understanding and insight. That insight will remain with him for the longest time. He can now build on this insight. And he’ll more excited to continue learning. A win-win all around.

Brené Brown’s work around vulnerability, guilt and shame has really taken off over the past years. People resonate with it so deeply, myself included. Her work has really got me thinking about how the more historical parenting, teaching and management styles, build on a culture of shame and guilty to get people to conform. I invite you to stop and become aware of these seemingly small and insignificant reactions. Because they are not small and insignificant. That critical voice screaming at the child “I told you so” lives in their heads for the longest time. It takes root so quickly and embeds deeply, which becomes a learning block instantly. I speak from experience. You will know from a past post how I very recently only got rid of the high school teacher’s voice who told me not to bother applying to university because I won’t make it, recently. I’m 43. This happened when I was around 14 or 15 years old.

We want to encourage mistakes in our homes, schools, social settings and workplaces. As the adults in this scenario, it means we have to be the authors and commit to inviting mistakes as a key component of learning. Let’s celebrate success and break this negative culture we have around mistakes. Next time your child spills water at home, don’t even gasp or say anything. Calmly tell them to clean it up and move on, quickly. The next time it happens, they may need another reminder but after a few iterations, it will be seamless. Guilt and shame have no place on the learning journey. Mistakes do. Let’s build a different culture around mistakes.

Thought-provoking questions:

• How can you use mistakes to foster learning?
• How can you role-model the art of normalizing mistakes?
• How can you celebrate mistakes?

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