mistake tolerance

Don’t avoid mistakes, acknowledge them

“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” ― George Bernard Shaw

The worst thing we can do with mistakes is to avoid them. Life is trial and error. We cannot make progress without making mistakes.

Archie Cochrane understood this as well as anybody.

The Scottish doctor wanted to test out where was the best place for patients to recover from heart attacks. Should they recover in a specialized cardiac unit in the hospital? Or should they recover at home?

Of course, the doctors in the cardiac unit tried to shut his experiment down. But, Archie continued until he collected some preliminary results.

“I was wrong, and you are right,” Dr. Cochrane surprised his colleagues, “It is dangerous for patients to recover from heart attacks at home. They should be in a hospital.”

His words caused an uproar. The doctors demanded that he shut the experiment at once. And accused Cochrane of killing patients.

Archie waited until everyone calmed down.

And then he revealed a secret. He had swapped the table of results. It turned out that hospitals were killing people. Patients should recover at home.

“Would you like to close down the trial now? Or should we wait until we have robust results?” Cochrane added as everyone looked at him in silence.

The father of evidence-based medicine understood the power of trial and error. But he also knew that most of us are mistake intolerant. We don’t like to admit being wrong.

That’s why Archie challenged his colleague’s fallibility. Learning through trial and error is not just about trying new things. We must first recognize our faults.

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