Why We Fail to Learn From Lessons Learned?

Photo by Nandhu Kumar from Pexels

Goal: To provide a way for lessons to stick

The idea of lessons learned is powerful. In theory you do something and make a mistake. You recognize the mistake and create a note to self about the mistake. After the pat on the back you give yourself, you completely forget about it.

You had a lot of energy after the lesson. You paid a dear price and even captured it. And then you forget about it.

I currently manage projects for a living. Our team often talks about current mistakes we have made with the idea that we will learn from those. Maybe if we say it enough times that X created a problem, we will remember it. That is refreshing the lesson. With enough times, the lesson sticks.

BUT what if the team members change?

The new team member does not have the historical data that more seasoned members of the team have. They are bound to repeat the same mistake and then be told that the lesson was learned long ago.

That fails to take into account that the price was paid by someone else and it might have been long time ago.

So how do we remember the lesson? Lessons have to be group by importance and relevance.

Not every lesson is important. It is a lesson but the cost was minimal so maybe you can pay it again. And again until the pain is significant enough to stop.

Lessons also have to be relevant to what you are currently doing. Having a lesson on area A when you are working on area Z does not translate. Grouping lessons by areas not only makes sense but people can focus on that area.

Teams have to periodically stop their work and review an area. Maybe this month we drill down into top ten lessons in area A. Next month it is area B. If you are working on Z and the meeting for Z won’t occur for 24 months, you go to a shared folder and review that lesson and bring some questions up to the team. Maybe Z comes before C if it is more relevant.

I have been in several industries and this idea of capturing lessons is often treated as important BUT there is no action or time taken to engrain the lesson repeatedly over time and people changes. There is the tactic of collecting the lesson BUT the strategy of how to engrain it is missing. Just wishing to engrain it is not enough. It must be done systematically and continuously.

There is a method for learning languages by Pimsleur. Pimsleur realized that once a person is exposed to a word they start to forget it. After the recall of taht the word drops to 80% the word is reintroduced. Then again after it drops to 80%. And again. And again. Eventfully you remember the word.

Same idea should be applied to lessons learned.

Why the picture?

Often times when we do things that are complex many pieces have to align. The stones have to be perfectly fitted one to another. Notice that there is moving water underneath the stones that is constantly trying to topple the creation. The lessons keep the stones upright with small adjustments even in hard moving waters.




I have led people and projects in Steel/ Power, Refining, Chemicals, Industrial Gasses, Software, Consulting and Academia. I have instructed 73+ courses.

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Robert Trajkovski

Robert Trajkovski

I have led people and projects in Steel/ Power, Refining, Chemicals, Industrial Gasses, Software, Consulting and Academia. I have instructed 73+ courses.

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