Mental Models Towards Problems

Learn from your mistakes.  It sounds so nice in theory, but it often breaks down it practice, particularly for Type A personalities. An intermediary step that’s usually missing is first learning how to honor the missteps, as odd as that may sound.  Most of us treat mistakes as toxic, to be avoided at all costs, minimized with good planning and prudent choices. But well-intentioned mistakes are vital ingredients in the improvement process, and they must be honored as invaluable assets. This often requires a big shift in our mental models towards being wrong.

I often hear managers tell employees not to “bring me problems unless you have the solution.”  It’s meant to foster self-reliance and proactive problem-solving, values we like to celebrate here in America, but the attitude can be poisonous to an organization.  If we only solve problems that are co-located with solutions – or put any other diminishing effect on the surfacing of problems – we are dampening our ability to learn and improve.  Surfacing problems can be a solo sport, but addressing problems of consequence usually requires a team.  It is the obligation of leaders to set the tone for employees – to create a culture where problems are viewed as a path to competitive advantage, as a way to learn and innovate at a faster rate than competitors. Leaders must make it crystal clear that embracing mistakes is not an invitation to fail — it’s a radical  prescription to thrive.

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