Black Box Thinking

Black Box Thinking

Why most people never learn from their mistakes, but some do

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How oddly coincidental that I’m writing this review at my child’s gymnastics class, and he just came out crying because he couldn’t do something that “is so easy” and “everyone else can do”. Mistakes are an important part of life and work. No one is going to be perfect all of the time — and we know this intellectually but it’s really hard to take to heart. Yet when mistakes happen, we choose how to respond. We can twist ourselves around in knots trying to justify, blame and rationalize, or we can open that box of mistakes, poke around, get curious and learn. In the first case people don’t learn or improve — they shut down through externalizing and shifting. The second group are more likely to learn — curiosity and a “growth mindset” lead to learning from errors to minimize errors in the future. Sometimes, these errors are quite small — like my son’s difficulty mastering a gymnastics
move. Other times, these errors affect lives, like in the cases of wrongful convictions or medical mistakes. When the stakes are higher, it becomes even more important to learn, and yet because of those high stakes, it is more likely that individuals will engage in blaming and shutting down. I told my son to make a lot of mistakes. He said that he couldn’t do that, because he wanted to give his best effort. Understand that sometimes even our best efforts can result in error. And then we need to turn our best efforts into a learning experience.


Lisa Sansom

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