Welcome to this issue of "Dr. T's Timely Tips" by Dr. Tony Alessandra. Please send your feedback to info@alessandra.com!

We profit most from our mistakes

It's human nature: When things are going well, we generally don't think about changing anything. It's only when something goes wrong, or we recognize the potential for it going wrong, that we decide to make corrections. This is the phenomenon of negative feedback -- feedback that is based on receiving negative information.

A very simple example is the big toe on your right foot. You probably do not usually think about it, but if you had stubbed your toe just now, and it was throbbing, you would be thinking about it and how to take care of it. That is the principle of negative feedback.

It seems unfortunate but true that we learn mainly by making mistakes. Buckminster Fuller was an architect, inventor, and philosopher -- his most well known contribution is the geodesic dome. In the many books he wrote in his later life, one theme was constant. Fuller emphasized repeatedly that human beings learn only through mistakes. The billions of human beings in history have made quadrillions of mistakes -- that is the only way we have arrived at the knowledge that we have.

Fuller pointed out that humans might have been so mortified by the number of mistakes we have made that we would have become too discouraged to continue with the experiment of life. But fortunately, we have a built-in sense of pride in the fact that we can learn, and we have the gift of memory that allows us to keep somewhat of an inventory on our mistakes. That prevents us from repeating all of them over and over again.

When you possess the trait of self-correction, or sometimes it is called "course-correction," you are able to learn from your mistakes. You also get better and better at spotting the need for change before disaster strikes. It is similar to being able to monitor symptoms of disease in your body before they turn into serious problems.

Self-correction means you have ability to initiate change and evaluate the results. It means you ask for feedback, and have a mindset that is about problem solving, not about the need to be right. It means being able to see when you have developed a non-productive pattern in your behavior. Or being able to say:
"I think this approach isn't working, I'd better try something different.

"I made a mistake." "I went off on a tangent." "I got off on the wrong foot." Those are each ways of acknowledging that we tried something that did not work out as we had planned. If you find that you are not saying those kinds of things very often or at all, it might mean your versatility is low, or it might mean you are not trying anything new. As Bucky Fuller says, it's the reason we were given two feet -- to make a mistake first to the left and then to the right and over and over again. It is only by self-correcting at every step we take that we are able to walk in a somewhat straight direction.

Here's to more personal insight,


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Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983)

A student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) once asked Buckminster Fuller whether he considered aesthetic factors when tackling technical problems.

"No," Fuller replied. "When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only of how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong."