Learning from Near-Misses

The two modes of life-learning I’ve usually heard people refer to are:

a) “learning from experience” (i.e. doing stuff, trial-and-error, screwing up, taking on risk, paying the consequences, internalizing the process, getting back up and trying again)

and

b) “learning from others’ mistakes” (i.e. observing others’ best-practices so as to copy and pitfalls so as to avoid/sidestep)

I tend to start with “b” to calibrate myself to the terrain, then dive in with the lowest-risk version of “a” until I’ve decided that I want to go all-in.

Part of this is because I was raised by wonderfully risk-averse parents who constantly had me consider the worst-case scenario of my actions, part of this is because I’ve been burned before and no longer hurl myself at “a” without really understanding what it is and why I want it, and part of it is because learning from others’ mistakes before diving in actually makes for more-informed and better-framed learning-by-experience.

A third type of learning just came into my viewfinder from the Four Hour Blog. It’s called “learning from near-misses” and upon reflection, it’s probably been my biggest source of learning. The way I think of it is this: when we have a close call (near-death, near-failure, near-capture, near-blowup, near-debacle, etc.), we have two choices (besides ignoring it) for how to interpret it. The first choice is to use the close call as evidence to ourselves for how awesome we are at “winging it” and thinking on our feet in moments of crisis. This choice is idiotic and self-amplifying; to interpret the thrill of a close getaway as worthy of repetition is immature, short-sighted, and deluded. The second choice is to interpret the close call experience with the imaginary gravity of as if it were actually the worst-case experience that happened, and analyze it in retrospect with as much objective learning-intention as possible.

 
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