Can we really learn from mistakes of others ?

“Great people learn from mistakes of others”, I’ve come across this phrase many times in different books and blogs and in some other cases I heard it from those trying to inspire others through online videos or live sessions.

This post is about analyzing this phrase in depth and trying to come up with something substantial on what is the extent to which these words can be accepted. The reason for writing this post is because before accepting wisdom passed on traditionally, it is important to understand the context.

What are mistakes anyway?

A mistake is an INPUT which was expected to produce a certain OUTPUT but it actually produced an output which deviated highly from the expected results. Higher the error DELTA between input and output and bigger is the mistake committed.

What it means to say :: “Learn from mistakes of others”

In traditional sense, it means don’t ever try to give the same input because last time when some Mr. X tried that input, the output was disastrous and he had to incur a huge loss.

What is wrong with it ?

The problem with above statement is that “CONTEXT” is completely missing. We talk only about what input was given but we tend to forget what were the conditions when the certain input was applied. And the “CONTEXT” is what plays a huge role in deciding the output.

Understanding Context

Lets take an example ::

Case-1 :: An entrepreneur starts a book-cab-online business given that only half of the population have access to internet and no smart phones exist. The startup will have hard time surviving.

Is this is reason to never think of a book-cab-online business?

Case-2 :: [After a few years]Everybody have a smart phone and internet access. Another entrepreneur starts book-cab-online business even after been told that it is not going to work. And yeah it magically succeeds.

What is context here :: In first case there is less internet connectivity so it automatically reduces the market segment for business where as in second case, the input is though the same but the market segment is now different as internet is easily available.

What is the Moral of the Story?

Before we give up on an idea just because we know it didn’t work for somebody it’s always better to assess and re-evaluate the idea thoroughly and in a given “CONTEXT”. Context changes as a function of many different things like people, places, time, technology and so on. And just because the context is highly variable the success rate on the same idea is different in a different context.