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Weekly 3: Benefits of being wrong

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Summary: Embrace discomfort. Treat mistakes like puzzle pieces. Look for luck. (~4 min read)
 

Idea Journal Weekly 3

September 29 · Issue #106 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Embrace discomfort. Treat mistakes like puzzle pieces. Look for luck. (~4 min read)

#1. Examine your mistakes right after you make them
Author Daniel Coyle writes in his book The Little Book of Talent that most of us are “allergic to mistakes.”
When we make one, our instinct is to look away, ignore it, and pretend it didn’t happen. But that’s the wrong reaction, because “mistakes are our guideposts for improvement.”
As Coyle points out, brain-scan research reveals a vital instant of just 0.25 seconds after we make a mistake. In that brief time, we do one of two things: either we look hard at the mistake, or we ignore it.
People who choose to pay deeper attention to their errors learn significantly more than those who ignore them.
Coyle recommends developing the habit of attending to your mistakes right after you make them. Instead of closing your eyes, look straight at them to see what happened, and ask yourself what you can do to improve.
As he puts it: “Take mistakes seriously, but never personally.”
#2. Let your mistakes reveal your weaknesses
In his book Principles, hedge fund manager Ray Dalio writes that there is a five-step process to becoming successful and getting what you want out of life.
Each step requires a different set of abilities: 
1. Setting clear goals requires seeing the big picture, and being able to prioritize.
2. Identifying problems that stand in the way of those goals requires you to be perceptive, synthesize details, and maintain high standards.
3. Diagnosing the root causes of those problems requires you to be logical, to see multiple possibilities, and to be willing to have difficult conversations.
4. Designing solutions to move past those problems requires an ability to visualize processes and a practical approach.
5. Executing those designs to achieve desirable results requires self-discipline, good work habits, and an orientation centered on results.
As Dalio points out, although doing all five steps well is “required for being really successful,” it’s unlikely that any one person will be good at all of them. 
Do you know anyone who has all of these abilities?
Probably not. And that’s OK. 
The key is to know which areas you’re weak in, and either make an effort to improve, or partner with others who are strong in those areas.
For Dalio, the best way to reveal your weaknesses is to look at the patterns of your mistakes.
Reflecting on the five steps, in which area(s) do you consistently perform poorly?
Dalio acknowledges that answering this question can be hard because it’s difficult to see ourselves objectively. Remembering that the point of the exercise is to increase your chances of success can help create the needed emotional distance.
After all, “weaknesses don’t matter if you find solutions.”
#3. Are you lucky or talented?
Author and entrepreneur Rolf Dobelli writes in his book The Art of Thinking Clearly that when something gets off to a great start, you should consider whether “beginner’s luck” played a role.
Take the example of casino players. 
As Dobelli puts it, people who are new to a game and lose in the first few rounds are usually clever enough to quit. But those who get lucky initially tend to keep playing. Convinced of their above-average skills, they increase the stakes – “but they soon will get a sobering wake-up call when the probabilities ‘normalize.’”
To guard against beginner’s luck, Dobelli recommends taking your time before drawing conclusions, and treating your theories as a scientist would: try to disprove them.
This is the approach Dobelli used himself early in his writing career. 
When he finished writing his first novel, he sent it to a single publisher, who accepted it: “For a moment I felt like a genius, a literary sensation.” Dobelli then tested this reaction by sending the manuscript to ten additional publishers. All ten rejected the book, bringing him back down to earth.
To help you distinguish between beginner’s luck and the first signs of real talent, use time as a tool: “if you are much better than others over a long period of time, you can be fairly sure that talent plays a role.”
Quote of the Week
“The error is needed to set off the truth, much as a dark background is required for exhibiting the brightness of a picture.”
- Philosopher and psychologist William James in his book The Will to Believe
Idea Journal
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