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Why are we afraid to make mistakes?

I recently saw this article and found the following paragraph: "In science, you make your mistakes in public. You show them off so that everybody can learn from them. This way, you get the benefit of everybody else's experience, and not just your own idiosyncratic path through the space of mistakes."


While i'm not sure that all scientists share their mistakes so that others can learn form them, i was wondering why we're afraid to make mistakes at work, for instance? Is it because we are told that mistakes are not tolerated? Could it be our education, from our family and school, that mistakes should be avoided at all cost or hidden when they happen?

Topics: failure mistakes

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    Jun 5 2013: For some reason Donald Rumsfeld's famous statement came to my mind:
    “There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know.
    There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know.
    But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.”

    Nate Silver's penetrating book “The Signal and the Noise” also refers to this quote. While many people like scientists and forecasters are placing much emphasis on revealing or predicting known unknowns, it is unknown unknowns such as the 9/11 terror attack — most people had never thought about if an airplane would crash into a huge tower — that may potentially influence our life and therefore we should really care about (which is impossible because we don't know they exist). Failing to do something is acceptable as long as it doesn't trigger unprecedented effects — that is, unknown unknowns — but otherwise we would hesitate to try. Fear of mistakes could be part of our instinct to survive in this world where unknown unknowns are omnipresent.
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      Jun 10 2013: I've spent the last decade trying to sustain the rumor that Donald Rumsfeld spent two years confinement at the federal maximum security prison in Butner North Carolina for obstruction of justice . . . or maybe I just want to start the rumor . . .

      But the unknown/unknowns are always there. And dealing with those requires two things: 1) Vigilance, and 2) Courage. It is said that "Eternal Vigilance is the price of freedom." You just have to pay attention to protect yourself. That's the risk of the Unknown. And Courage is always part of every decision we make -- where we have to act upon incomplete or potentially inaccurate information.

      And the most consistent observation I have made thus far is quite simple. Even an obviously BAD decision creating misery for everyone, iS often much preferable to making NO DECISION. The consequences of making a bad decision can often be corrected or repaired. But making no decision can destroy everything.
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        Jun 11 2013: Juan, and don't you think that a person who repeatedly makes mistakes and gets called out on them might end up deciding to make no decisions at all, in order to avoid mistakes?

        I know people like that. They will not make a single decision.....because they are afraid of making a mistake.......

        I remember when I was young that I would go out with a group of friends, and nobody wanted to say where we should go....nooooo.....I had to always speak first and give the options available.
        It gets old....having to decide all the time.....and also dealing with the backlash if things do not turn out well. But it is a risk I have always been willing to take.

        Other people.....not so much. These individuals are, in my opinion, emotional cowards. I know, tough terminology, but I am surrounded by individuals like that.
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          Jun 11 2013: Some people are just like that. And I guess that's OK. The rest of us certainly have to live with it. And It can be tough to describe others in exactly the way that you see them. It takes courage. But what's to be gained by saying or doing anything else?

          I see the courage that underlies your insight. And I think we both know that some people love the freedom of "backlash." The gal with the guts to decide sticks her neck out - and then has to put up with the petty blame-game when things don't go well. I guess that's how some people delude themselves into thinking that they are never wrong. They just wait. And then pass judgment on others. I've seen that pattern before. We all have at one time or another.

          I've always tried to get away from those where and when I could. Get away and stay away.

          Also, I have to revise my comments above. I met a Doctor who told me once, "If you don't know what to do, don't do ANYTHING!" I was perplexed, but then she explained her words. In medicine, you make a big mistake if you just experiment to see what works. Your patients want to get better. If you don't know what you are doing, you can 1) make them sicker, & 2) make it harder for a Physician who does know what they are doing to sort out the mess you have created. So, like anything in life, you have to find a balance.
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        Jun 11 2013: "What's motherhood got to do, got to do with it?" (to be sung, rather than read, to the tune of Tina Turner's What's Love Got To Do With It)........Lizanne would be proud of me for this little musical creativity.

        Being a mom has nothing to do with it Juan...imho.

        I think that individuals who avoid making decisions because they are afraid of making mistakes have issues with autonomy. At least that is what I have read in psychology books. Add to this that many times these individuals wait and wait until someone else steps forward and decides for them, just so that they can turn around and criticize a bad decision, is just terribly terribly wacked.

        But, unfortunately, some individuals have had this sort of conditioning.

        So, how to fix it?

        I have read that you have to empower these individuals, praise them for their decision making skills when they do decide on something. Their self-esteem needs to be built up.

        I am presently working on those around me.....I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. But it requires alot of patience.....I myself am a work in progress.
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          Jun 11 2013: Out of deference to your observation, to wit: "What's motherhood got to do with it?" I edited my earlier comments to remove my offensive presumptions. But if my removal, of my formerly offensive 'motherhood' comments, are, themselves, offensive (is offensive?) then I'll put them back.

          . . . 'er, if I put my fat 'foot-in-it', I tried to fix it! If I failed to fix it and just missed the point, well, I can find a way to fix that too!

          "What's Mom got to do, got to do with it . . . ?" I get the Tina Turner reference. Wikipedia says some wonderful things about her!

          As far as your comment: "So how to fix it?" I generally do NOT go there. Not when dealing with other adults. If things get too "backlashed" I just absent myself from the equation. But this does explain my, now deleted, "Motherhood reference." I grew up in a culture that tends to abuse "Mom" in that way. It isn't fair, but Mom's have responsibilities that are a bit broader than the rest of us. Where I grew up, Mom's tend to supervise everything! So if you screw up, somewhere, somehow, 'Mom' will let you know! That is, if you're lucky . . .

          Backlash? The best Moms have the resources to deal with even that! And Mom or not, so do the strongest women. And the strongest women are people that only a fool would mess with. For sure!
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        Jun 12 2013: Oh, you don't need to apologize, I was not offended.
        I was just attempting some humor with my comment.

        But in all seriousness, I don't really think my observations and feeling are necessarily related to being a mom. I am just an observant person.

        I do feel that, at times, we can help others, albeit in a tactful, discreet way. That is, if the person is someone we love and care about, and if we are always around them and see how their behavior hurts themself and others.

        I usually steer clear of these types of individuals Juan. They suck the life out of me.

        You know, when I read Covey's Habits of Successful People and learned about interdependence, I underwent a huge paradigm shift. Since then, I have worked hard to not be the only person who works around my home. And, although I observe alot more than the others around me......I pick my battles carefully, and I help others to also be "aware".....all for their own good.

        "The strongest women are people that only a fool would mess with"......if you say so.

        I liked this quote I read once:

        "A strong woman stands up for herself, a stronger woman stands up for someone else."

        Check out superwoman: http://wisewomenrule.com/wtwquotes5/

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