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Succeed by Failing

Amazon.com’s founder, Jeff Bezos, says a desire to invent and explore—what we call a learner mindset—is the key to the company’s customer-centric success. “You have to have a willingness to fail, to be misunderstood for long periods of time,” he says.

Jeff’s right. When we quit trying to be a perfectionist (or an expert) and instead become a learner, we grow, are more equipped to face challenging situations, see the world through a lens of constant improvement—and think more creatively.

But how can we leave our perfectionist ways behind and take on a learner mindset? Here’s how:

Solve a new problem

Think of your brain as a muscle: The more effort you put into it, the more it can grow and learn to do new things. Do a crossword puzzle (without looking at the answers).

Play a challenging board game with the family, like “Scrabble,” “Monopoly” or “Balderdash.” Make a soufflé. The idea is to do things that are out of the ordinary for you, and to begin thinking in new ways.

Give yourself permission to fail

NBA legend Michael Jordan said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Failure doesn’t define you as a person—it gives you an opportunity to learn from your mistakes, grow and move forward.

Give yourself permission to make mistakes, and you’ll approach life with more enthusiasm and resiliency.

Stop procrastinating

Perfectionism is the enemy of learning (and creativity), and if you have a habit of putting off tasks, it’s probably because you expect perfect results from yourself, expect perfect results from others or think others expect perfect results from you. In reality, though, when you work before the deadline, you give yourself time to experiment with new ideas and concepts.

When you’re a perfectionist, you see the world based on how much you can do and how well you can do it. But as a learner, you have possibilities, and every misstep is one step toward success.

Becoming a learner

Failures become insights when you adopt a learner versus a perfectionist mindset. To become a learner, ask yourself these three questions the next time you tackle a new project:

1. How can my past experiences help me with this project?

2. What can I learn from doing this project?

3. What are some mistakes I might make? (And what can I tell myself to assure myself that it’s okay to make these mistakes once in a while?)

MARGARET H. GREENBERG and SENIA MAYMIN are organizational consultants and executive coaches. Their book, Profit from the Positive, was recently Amazon.com’s No. 1 seller in Leadership and Self-Help and offers readers more than 30 positive tools that can be applied to business, as well as everyday life. Follow Margaret and Senia at Facebook.com/ProfitFromThePositive.

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