The Hot Iron Effect: How to Learn From Negative Experience

Melted synthetics cling to the bottom of some hotel irons. When the iron gets hot, the residue stains your clothes. I learned this the hard way.

My experience with irons also taught me to hold my hand close to see if the iron is hot. Don’t touch it!

The most painful and embarrassing defeat is self-inflicted.

Limitations of experience:

Experience warns and confirms.

Mark Twain said, “We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it and stop there lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid.

She will never sit down on a hot stove lid again and that is well but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.”

Experience teaches two things.

  1. That’s good. Do that again.
  2. That’s not good. Don’t do that again.

Over-reacting to being burned:

After my first stained shirt, I might have over-reacted, “I’ll NEVER use a hotel iron again.”

People who’ve been burned over-react. “I’ll never trust anyone again,” for example.

#1. Treating the present like it’s the past is over-reacting.

It’s disheartening to work for a manager who coddles the memory of past disappointments and failures. Everything is reaction.

Nursing past defeat prevents you from fully engaging in the present and makes you fearful of the future.

#2. Taking offense quickly and easily is over-reacting.

A thin-skinned manager judges the present through the lens of past disappointment.

The courage to lead requires openness to disappointment.

#3. Over-caution is over-reacting.

You over-react to getting burned when preventing is your mission in life.

People thrive when you trust them. Constant check-ins and reports foster distrust. Covey explains that distrust slows organizational life. (Speed of Trust)

Transform painful experiences to growth-points, not roadblocks.

What prevents us from learning from negative experiences?

How might we gain the most from negative experiences?

Bonus material:

Ideas as Art (HBR)

The Fly on the Wall Effect: Understanding How we Learn from Bad Experiences (Huff Post)

Hot Stove Effect (Jerker Denrell)