Learning from mistakes – Oliver Kahn knows how to do that! In his sporting career, he used every goalkeeping mistake to become number 1. Later, he saw every setback not as a hindrance, but as an opportunity to develop. Now in his Masterplan course: "Learning as a Leader," he shares 10 highlights on how to learn from mistakes and grow professionally as a leader.
1. Learn within the “Flow”
Learning is a balancing act, says Oliver Kahn. It doesn't take place by overstraining oneself, but does lie on its borderline. What does this mean exactly? One needs to find the “Flow,” which is the area in which the challenges are balanced with one's own abilities. When you feel up to your tasks and reach your personal limit, learning is most effective.
Outside of this range, however, it can become problematic. If you are constantly underchallenged, learning threatens to become boring and frustrating. In comparison, if you are constantly overchallenged you tend to resign.
2. Reflect on Setbacks
“You don't learn from failure, you learn from reflecting on failure.” Whether in his sporting or business career, for Kahn, it was the analysis of failures that triggered a successful learning process.
Further development, according to him, only sets in when you go into detail and ask yourself, “What am I learning now and how do I move on?” or “How can I do this better next time?” In order to reach this point, employees must also be allowed to make mistakes, from which they can learn. In some cases, this should even be encouraged because “failure is not just failure”.
3. Avoid Avoidable Failure
There are three types of failure. Probably the easiest error variant to eliminate is avoidable failure. This includes, for example, careless errors that occur due to lack of concentration or inattention.
In the work context, this can be an incorrect slide in a customer presentation that causes a deal to blow up. In Kahn's example, he mentions individual or tactical errors during a pitch as an example. This can always happen, but it is “not a type of failure that I want to celebrate, because I would rather eliminate it,” says Kahn.
4. Minimize Complexity-related Failure
Probably the best-known form of failure is complexity-related failure. Simply put it's simply not your fault that something didn't work out. This is especially the case when complex interrelationships are involved and different influencing factors play a role in the (non-)achievement of a goal.
So what do you do when you don't seem to have anything to prevent defeat anyway? Kahn's answer: ”You can't eliminate them, but you can minimize them.” By that, he means potential sources of error. So take into account as many influencing factors as possible in a project to reduce the risk of a mistake.
5. Enable Intelligent Failure
“That kind of failure, that's what I want,” says Oliver Kahn. Is there one type of failure that the former world goalkeeper prefers? Yes – intelligent failure! That's because the goal is to gain new insights, so to speak, targeted learning from mistakes.
“Intelligent failure, within a defined framework, can be a condition for success,” Kahn continues. In soccer, he says, there are test matches to try out new tactics. In the working world, we talk about pilot projects. In both cases, a certain fall height and a risk of making mistakes are taken into account. The goal is a learning effect that pays off in long-term success, not necessarily a short-term, positive result.
6. Learn from Mistakes of Others
“Learning from mistakes is mostly about analyzing your own mistakes,” Kahn notes in a lesson from his course. In most cases, we look at the successes of others, want to learn from best practices and copy them. Other people's setbacks are often much less interesting to us in terms of learning. Nevertheless, they contain equally valuable lessons that help to develop us further.
If you reflect not only on your own mistakes, but also ask, “why did XY make that mistake?,” you can prevent future setbacks.
7. Question Success Critically
Although often overlooked, you can also learn from your own success. Far too often, you come out of a successful project with an “It went well” attitude. Everything has worked out, the plan has succeeded. In Kahn's view, however, it is essential “that we look at success at least as critically as at failure.”
The challenge of this lies in self-analysis, “because it demands honesty from us.” If you face it, the answers to the following questions will probably provide you with interesting insights: How did you make it to success? And what should you continue to implement?
8. Develop a Growth Mindset
Simply put – Be curious! Because “one of the biggest shortcomings you can have in your professional life is a lack of curiosity and genuine interest in thinking outside the box,” says Oliver Kahn. After all, narrow-minded thinking and acting in departments does not lead to the success of the organization, as Kahn himself has experienced often enough.
Regardless of whether you are a manager or not – breaking down departments (silos) improves the overall performance of teams and the company. Issues are better placed in contexts, and there is more understanding of each other's work. Important to note is that, the breaking down of these silos only works with genuine interest.
9. Break Open Silos
Or in other words: Be curious. Because “one of the biggest shortcomings you can have in your professional life is a lack of curiosity and genuine interest in thinking outside the box,” says Oliver Kahn. After all, narrow-minded thinking and acting in departments does not lead to the success of the organization, as Kahn himself has experienced often enough.
Regardless of whether you are a manager or not – breaking down departments (silos) improves the overall performance of teams and the company. Issues are better placed in contexts, and there is more understanding of each other's work. Important constraint: Breaking down these silos only works with genuine interest.
10. Show Genuine Interest
“It doesn't matter how great and detailed a strategic plan may be. The culture that exists in your organization is much more crucial and powerful.” What Kahn is saying is that attitude and mindset are more important than methods and techniques.
We can all learn to ask the right questions or conduct failure analysis in a structured way. But this is only truly helpful if you are really interested in the answers and results. You can only speak of successful learning when you develop yourself further or your team benefits from the findings.
There are many strategies and approaches for learning the right lessons from mistakes, setbacks and defeats. Oliver Kahn has successfully put many of them into action himself.
Two basic tips for learning from mistakes from Kahn:
- Make it clear from the beginning what goals are being pursued and whether failures are allowed.
- In addition, you should accept mistakes, as this is the only way to develop further.
Because as the “Titan” says, “Whoever makes no mistakes probably isn't doing much else either.”
In his Masterplan course “Learning as a Leader”, Oliver Kahn shares more learning strategies, such as what makes a "Multivocal Leader" and how to create psychological safety in leadership – all illustrated with real-life examples from his career, the business and soccer world.