Oops... I Did It Again

February 19, 2020 | Rachael Bosch

Remember in January when we set our sights on those shiny goals for a new year and a new decade? Well, welcome to February — the lustre of our ambition has worn off a bit, and (if you’re like me) you may be feeling a bit disheartened about your progress to date. 

But as with most things, the magic in learning happens in the messy spots. Our setbacks often teach us as much, if not more, than our achievements. So this month I’m calling in some reinforcements to help rally our spirits and get us back toward tracking those 2020 goals. Meet my friend and mistake enthusiast, Michael Bloom, founder of the legal tech startup Praktio.

Mastering Mistakes

A former Michigan Law professor, Michael has literally built a company on the motto of “make mistakes.” I sat down with him recently for his perspective on reaching for our professional goals and the necessary mistakes we experience along the way. 

I came away from the conversation with a renewed energy about the year and some practical tips for pushing through what might normally set me back as “mistakes” in my workplace communication practices. Check it out:

Rachael Bosch: Why did you choose “make mistakes” as Praktio’s tagline?

Michael Bloom: Our mission centers on creating opportunities to learn through mistakes. In clinical law school pedagogy, we use “nondirective supervision” to give students enough space to try new and challenging tasks, develop confidence through their commitment to this turbulent role, and use honest reflection and feedback to continually improve.

The students I worked with were typically petrified of making mistakes. Their educational experiences incentivized demonstrating intellect — but avoiding potential failure at all costs. I realized I had to convince them of the value of a growth mindset if they are to succeed in the “real world.” Instead of merely imitating learning through classrooms and tests, they had to actually go through the growing pains of developing new skills in a new role.

Real learning requires the hard — often uncomfortable — work of making mistakes. My hope is that Praktio helps normalize the idea that if we’re not making any mistakes, we’re not experimenting enough, and we’re not learning. 

RB: We spend a lot of time at Fringe walking people through the neuroscience that hardwires us to avoid mistakes. What have you observed in your work that holds people back from making mistakes?

MB: Mistakes can be costly, embarrassing, and demoralizing. Layer on top of that a profession full of perfectionists and risk-avoiders, and what do you get? Mistake stigma. But absolute mistake aversion can be dangerous. When I’ve seen students and professionals avoid mistakes, they tend to stifle their own professional growth, miss out on valuable opportunities for candid feedback, and waste time and money perfecting a final product that could have been improved through early-on stakeholder feedback.

Michael and I then spent some time discussing the advice we usually give individuals and leaders, respectively, for learning through their mistakes. Here are our top tips:

For leaders, normalizing mistakes should be the goal. 

  • Share mistakes, and model a better way of learning. Be open about your own mistakes — whether recent or in the past — and share with others how you have derived value from them.
  • Manage mistake expectations. When encouraging someone to stretch toward a goal,  vocalize your expectation that they’ll make mistakes along the way. Say out loud that you expect them to ask questions and seek out feedback. Similarly, when encouraging someone to draft something “quick and dirty” for initial feedback, set clear expectations for how they will (and will not be) evaluated.
  • Encourage growth through feedback. When someone does make a mistake in their effort to grow (especially at your encouragement), help them connect the mistake with a plan for improvement, and remind them about your mistake expectations. When they demonstrate improvement next time, recognize the lesson learned and offer your praise.

For individuals, the goal should be to set clear expectations and try to gain buy-in from others on this approach.

  • Manage early-stage expectations. If you see an opportunity to gain feedback on something before arriving at a fully developed version (i.e., as a prototype), get buy-in from your stakeholders beforehand about your intent, and focus their attention when reviewing afterward on relevant criteria at this stage. 
  • Share the intent behind your own “stretch” goals. Let your supervisors know when you expect to be a rookie in a role and that you might experience some growing pains at first. But also share that you’re excited to work through and receive feedback as you learn. 
  • Reward feedback. On that note, it’s critical to receive feedback productively. Always easier said than done, this means identifying the actionable insights in the feedback you get, so that you can improve next time. This practice is key both to your own mistake-fueled learning and to encourage others to continue to give you feedback. For them, pushing past the discomfort of giving feedback means they think you’re worth the effort. Show them you are. 

So there you have it. A January without significant progress is hardly a sign of a lost year! We’ve still got 11 more months and plenty of room to grow into 2020 — so long as we give ourselves the space to mess up along the way. People like Michael and his team at Praktio remind us that the struggle is definitely worth the professional payoff that results. 

To learn more about how Fringe can help you or your team adopt a more resilient mindset, check out our group training programs. For leveling up your contract drafting or legal writing skills, check out praktio.com.

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