“The definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting the same result.” – Albert Einstein
This quote has stuck with me over my career and I would even say, shaped me as a person. On many occasions I’ve seen people fail at something, pick themselves up and try again, but not change their approach to the task. Ultimately resulting in them failing again.
I think the fact that they continue to try speaks volumes of their character as a person and I hold a huge amount of respect for them. It is even difficult to critique their approach the second time round. If you only know how to do something one way, why would you do it any other way?
I think this comes down to the process of knowledge transfer and a willingness to accept the knowledge that you are being given. Knowledge doesn’t have to be given to you by someone or something. Knowledge can be gained from yourself and through the actions you take on a daily basis. But sometimes this doesn’t always sink in.
For me, I know when I have learnt something because I have a real eureka moment. It is almost philosophical in nature. I know the knowledge transfer has happened because I can explain it in its most simple form. I realise exactly why something works or why something doesn’t work. These moments feel great, but how can you open yourself up to them more often?
A falling leaf
Most trees shed their leaves on a yearly cycle. This allows them to retain the flow of water out of the leaves, helping them to survive the cold, dry air of winter. When a leaf falls we do not try to stick it back on again. No one likes to see the leaves fall from the trees to reveal the dark crooked branches below. We would much rather see a tree in full bloom all year round. However, we understand that this is the process that allows the tree to retain the water it needs to survive.
Think about what happens during the autumn months with those beautiful yellows and browns. Just because the tree no longer resembles its most full self, by shedding its leaves it has created something quite beautiful.
Then think about spring and the blossoming flowers that come before they start to grow their leaves back, in a mesmerising display of colours. The leaves grow back and the tree is whole again, bigger and more beautiful than ever. All because it shed its leaves to help retain the water it needed to survive the winter months.
Trees vs businesses
So I might have gone off on a bit of a philosophical tangent with this. But compare trees to our businesses and say that the falling leaves are a symbol of the mistakes we make. By making mistakes we go through a beautiful learning process allowing us to realise what we have done wrong and the changes we need to make to do it right. If we, like trees, can retain the essential nutrients in order to survive, then we can really benefit from these mistakes. In business our essential nutrient is knowledge. From making mistakes and learning from them, we are retaining essential knowledge that will help us to build our business.
This is our eureka moment. The moment when spring comes round and the trees are in full bloom. We understand exactly what went wrong and why. Now when our leaves grow back, we are a bigger and stronger business. This is not going to be the last time we make a mistake but that’s fine, if we learn from them we will continue to grow.
Gluing our mistakes back together
The most detrimental thing we can do is to glue those leaves back onto to the tree as this will stop the flow of knowledge.
If we try to glue the mistakes we make back together, it will still resemble the same mistake. This can happen a lot in business with people’s refusal to let go. You might have spent a lot of time and effort on the project and therefore refuse to let that all go to waste. In these cases there is no knowledge transfer happening. We are just learning how to repair and redo the same mistake. Letting that mistake go and retaining the knowledge you learnt from it is the only way you will grow as a person and as a business.
Just let the leaves fall
Instead of trying to glue the leaves back onto your business, take a moment to appreciate the autumn months and realise what you have learned from this mistake. If you are able to do that and find your spring eureka moment, then your business will blossom and grow back bigger and stronger than ever.
It might sound like I am encouraging people to go out there and make mistakes. That’s because I am. This will naturally occur in business, it is just a fact of life. The stronger of us are those who accept this and retain the knowledge from these mistakes, as these people will grow because of the change it causes them to make. I began this blog with a quote from a leading scientific figure so it is only right that I end it with one. “I have learnt more from my mistakes than my successes.” - Humphry Davy