Lessons learned the hard way

I discovered the most beautiful and insightful book today; an art piece by Aleksandra Mir – The How Not to Cookbook, Lessons Learned the hard way.

Recipes are designed to facilitate immediate success, they rarely document the ways in which it can fail. Based on Aleksandra’s personal history of cooking disasters, the project invited 1000 people from all around the world to offer advice of how NOT to cook.

This book was set up on mass in a lovely gallery space in the Collective Gallery in Edinburgh, where there was a bit of library feel. Although all of the books in the exhibition were the same.  I also liked that they took some of the ‘lessons learned’ into the community in Edinburgh to share the myriad of methods for learning how not to cook with members of Streetwork Edinburgh.

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In this book there are examples of ‘what not to do’ from people all around the world including entries from: Brazil, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, France, Italy, the UK and the US. The book is also split up into a range of unconventional cookbook chapters, from dating to drugs and everything in between.

The concept of this book started me thinking about learning and the ways in which we learn. It is not a new concept to learn from ones mistakes and we all do it… yet it is often a very good way to learn and often not always the easiest. There are no formal study pieces that I know of that present a series of things not to do in order to move forward. Particularly, in response to a specific topic. Yet reading parts of this book makes me wonder if learning from a collective of many peoples’ mistakes, could prove to be as valuable as the endless series of how-tos.

Of course it is good to learn from positive stories and routes for success. However, when trying to follow specific directions i.e. a recipe (to success?!), it is often the case that you have to substitute one part of the recipe, to change the quantities, to perhaps just add what you have got together and hope for the best. This may not always end up as a bad combination, in fact it could and certainly should work out better than a prescription recipe. But it certainly is valuable to have the knowledge that things do not have to work out perfectly on the first attempt. That in fact there are lots of people for whom it didn’t, but who could still pass on positive advice, despite through sharing perhaps a negative story.

As Scott Berkun discusses in his blog post How to learn from your mistakes:

What’s missing in many people’s beliefs about success is the fact that the more challenging the goal, the more frequent and difficult setbacks will be. The larger your ambitions, the more dependent you will be on your ability to overcome and learn from your mistakes.

My original post on blogger here.