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Failures, Mistakes, and Other Ways to Learn

By steve - Posted on 29 September 2009

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
--George Santayana

Are you committed to life-long learning? I am.

Why? Because, to paraphrase George Santayana, "those that don't learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them."

How do you learn? Some might answer, "I'm a kinetic learner" or "I learn by reading" or "I am an auditory learner". And that would be true for them, to some extent. There are many learning styles, preferences, and methods, but there is only one common method that is makes such an impact that almost everyone learns something from it. I'm talking about FAILURE.

Many of the most memorable lessons I've learned have came from my failures, not my successes.

For instance, I've always been a bit of a fanatic about data backups. When I first started developing software and supporting computers, the media we used was very unreliable, when compared to what is available now, and yet we ran entire multi-million dollar businesses on this fragile stuff. Because of that, backups, safety copies, and offsite storage have been something I've pushed on my clients for years. Not just the regular rotational backups, but complete, audited, verified, and tested backups.

However, one time, when I was upgrading a RAID array for a client, all I did was check that the backup had run and that the archive was of a "reasonable" size. I went forward with the upgrade and ran into an issue. The vendor told me I needed to upgrade the BIOS on the array, but didn't mention that this would destroy all the data. Well, that was a setback, but I had my backup, right? Not quite. I had part of a backup. It seems a few months before, a user with admin rights had been "cleaning things up" and stripped the "BACKUP USER"'s rights from a key 2nd level directory entry. This meant only part of the server's files were visible to the backup system and so only about 40% of the business's data was recoverable.

I LEARNED MY LESSON. It was an expensive one, too. It cost me time and real money as we struggled over the next few weeks to piece together their client's information from email copies, local safety copies, etc.

So, yes... learn by reading, listening, asking questions and experimentation. But don't be afraid of your most important teacher, failure.

Analyze what happened and what caused the failure. Find out where you went wrong. Document your failures. Fix your policies and procedures. Then take what you've learned and move on.

Just don't stop trying and learning.

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