Thursday, September 19, 2013

Maxwell, Sometimes You Win—Sometimes You Learn

We’ve all read innumerable times that we learn more from failure than from success. Well, that’s not quite accurate. The sentence should probably read: “Failure provides a better opportunity for learning than does success.” Not all people—in fact, probably few people, take advantage of the opportunity that failure offers.

John C. Maxwell, a prolific author of self-help books, wants to increase the number of learners. Sometimes You Win—Sometimes You Learn: Life’s Greatest Lessons Are Gained from Our Losses (Center Street/Hachette, October 2013) explains how to turn failure into learning. John Wooden wrote the foreword to the book, based on its outline, a few months before he died.

Losses are tough, there’s no getting around this fact. They cause us to become emotionally stuck and mentally defeated, they create a gap between knowing and doing, they never leave us the same. They hurt, but when we don’t learn from them they really hurt.

Maxwell approaches learning from multiple perspectives: the foundation of learning, the focus of learning, the motivation of learning, the pathway of learning, the catalyst of learning, the price of learning, and the value of learning. His final chapter is entitled “Winning Isn’t Everything, But Learning Is.” He incorporates anecdotes, insights from others, and apposite quotations such as Bill Gates’s famous line: “Success is a lousy teacher. It makes smart people think they can’t lose.”

Here is one point that traders should appreciate (and act on): don’t let a bad experience become a worse experience. Maxwell recalls ABC’s Wide World of Sports, which used to open with a narrator intoning “the thrill of victory … the agony of defeat.” To illustrate the latter, Maxwell writes, “it always showed a ski jumper heading down ramp, and then suddenly going off course, spinning, crashing through the supporting structure, and then bouncing on the ground. It looked like a horrendous crash. What most people didn’t know was that the skier’s fall wasn’t an accident. He chose to fall rather than to finish the jump. An experienced jumper, he realized that the ramp had become icy, and he was picking up so much speed that if he completed the jump, he would probably land far beyond the sloped landing area and hit level ground, which might have killed him.” (pp. 133-34) By comparison a losing trade, even one not cut short, seems tame indeed. But the same principle applies.

Traders who want to be successful should commit to a regimen of unlearning things that aren’t working. This is a difficult task because, as a leadership coach wrote, “When you are frightened, you calcify your attitudes and beliefs—you resort to the familiar and close your mind. New learning is impossible, and effectiveness is impaired. … Unlearning is prerequisite for growth. … To unlearn, you: 1) admit that an old practice, belief, or attitude is not solving the current problem and that doing more of it won’t lead to desired outcomes; 2) open your mind …; 4) commit to terminating the old way forever; and 5) practice and perfect the new way.” (p. 151)

Maxwell’s book is a good read. Translating learning into acting is, of course, a big step, involving the cultivation of good habits. But we can’t afford not to try. Nobel Peace Prize winner Fridtjof Nansen’s encouraging words might help: “Have you not succeeded? Continue! Have you succeeded? Continue!” (p. 167)

No comments:

Post a Comment