Mistakes Smart People Make

Twyla Tharp

“The best failures are the private ones…” writes Twyla Tharp, renowned choreographer, in Creative Habit.

Our work places and our communities, however, are public social spaces. While learners don’t seek failure it can be an enormous source of new knowledge. A willingness to fail is certainly an essential element of learning.

Three Common Blunders

The human brain (and ego) is a remarkable asset, but it can be an obstacle to success. Sociologists, psychotherapists and anthropologists offer some vital insights to manager-leaders about the brain and behavior. There are three common mistakes smart people make:

Denial – a refusal to acknowledge an error.

Loss Chasing – the inability to “make peace” with an error which causes more damage in a pattern of additional mis-steps.

Hedonic Edits – revisions that either convince ourselves errors don’t matter or reinterpret errors as success.

We’re all guilty of these mistakes – sometimes. Great leaders have found intentional ways to minimize or even eliminate these common human blunders. Denial is avoided more often when we can separate errors from our self-worth. Loss-chasing is reduced if there’s self-awareness and adaptation. Hedonic edits occur less frequently if we  face the mirror with   clear recall and brutal candor. Humility is an antidote for all these quirks.

Get & Give

Regrettably, our capacity to revise our internal personal stories often becomes part of a public profile. Humans are social and so we massage, arrange and position material to manage image – for ourselves and others. While ruthless review, reflection and action towards self improvement is constructive, it may not be enough. Our inner critic can mislead or fail us.

For these reasons, honest advice has huge value.  Actively seek feedback from trusted resources. Tharp’s advice is “Challenge a status quo of your own making…All you need is people with good judgment in other parts of their lives who care about you and will give you honest opinion without strings.” In turn, after asking permission, offer caring, thoughtful feedback to help others develop.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is  an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

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