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Strategic Education - How Sherlock Holmes Approached Being Wrong

"Yes! Little Timmy. What's the answer?...hmmm. Nope. You're wrong kid." We have all been wrong at one point in our life. Maybe you missed that big question on a test, or perhaps you locked your keys in your car. Unless we have stroked the fuel of our own egos for years, most of us can acknowledge, to some degree, that we have and can be wrong. No matter how embarrassing being wrong can be, there are some awesome take aways from making mistakes. What are they? Before we explore that question, let's first analyze how Sherlock Holmes approached mistakes.

He was wrong

Sherlock Holmes was no stranger of being wrong. He used his mistakes to help hone his

craft as the worlds greatest detective. In the story Silver Blaze (Read Here), Sherlock Holmes takes his time tracking down a famous race horse named Silver Blaze.

We pick up the story, ""On Tuesday evening I received telegrams from both Colonel Ross, the owner of the horse, and from Inspector Gregory, who is looking after the case, inviting my cooperation. “Tuesday evening!” I exclaimed. “And this is Thursday morning. Why didn’t you go down yes- terday?” “Because I made a blunder, my dear Watson—which is, I am afraid, a more common occurrence than any one would think who only knew me through your memoirs. The fact is that I could not believe it possible that the most remarkable horse in England could long remain concealed, especially in so sparsely inhabited a place as the north of Dart- moor. From hour to hour yesterday I expected to hear that he had been found, and that his abductor was the murderer of John Straker. When, however, another morning had come, and I found that be- yond the arrest of young Fitzroy Simpson nothing had been done, I felt that it was time for me to take action. Yet in some ways I feel that yesterday has not been wasted.”"

So here we have the great Sherlock Holmes admitting to a terrible blunder. made a terrible blunder. How did this help him?

First, he used his mistake to spur him on to correct the mistake as soon as possible. With the realization that he has waisted valuable time, he must do all he can to make up for it. I'm not saying this should be the default mindset for anyone. Making mistakes should not be the focus of most endeavors. But knowing that your mistakes could cost you valuable resources (in this story time & possible evidence), can be a great springboard into making more sound decisions and avoiding assumptions from the beginning of a decision making process.

Second, he totally owned up to the fact that his mistakes are more common than he would like. Even though the stories reveal that Holmes had moments of vanity, he never allowed this to prevent him from owning up to his mistakes. He could often times be wrong about things if he wasn't careful. "I am afraid, a more common occurrence than any one would think..."

Let's take a look at one more example of Holmes making an error in judgement. In the story A Scandal In Bohemia, Holmes is asked to recover a picture that would 'implicate the great House of Ormstein; one of the hereditary kings of Bohemia.' In order to get the photo back from Irene Adler, a talented singer, Holmes devises a plan to trick Irene into showing him where she keeps the photo. Holmes' plan is simple; after gathering information on her, he stages a fight in front of her house where he is beaten up. She takes pity on him and allows him inside of the house. The power of his ruse is simple; when a fire breaks out, people instinctively run to whats most important. Holmes explains, 'Woman that have children run to their babies and woman without run for their jewel box.' So, Holmes has someone create a smoke diversion and then watches where she runs when the presumed fire breaks out. His ruse works and he discovers what he believes to be the location of the photograph.

Holmes mistake occurs early on in the story, before his subterfuge. If you read carefully, Holmes trivializes her as a simple socialite. In his description of her he says, "Oh, she has turned all the men's heads down in that part. She is the daintiest thing under a Bonet on this planet...She lives quietly, sings at concerts, drives out at five everyday, and returns at seven sharp for dinner. Seldom goes out at other times, expect when she sings. Has only one male visitor, but a good deal of him. He is dark, handsome, and dashing, never calls less than once a day, and often twice. He is Mr. Godfrey Norton, of the Inner Temple. See the advantages of a cabman as a confidant. They had driven him home a dozen times from Serpentine-mews, and knew all about him. When I had listened to all they had to tell, I began to walk up and down near Briony Lodge once more, and to think over my plan of campaign." He never bothered retrieving information about her first hand. This might seem to be a trivial thing to do, considering he was only tasked with retrieving a picture, but it's because he failed to do his due diligence that by the end of the story he was discovered by Irene and never was able to retrieve the photograph. When on his way back to his Baker Street lodgings, someone passes him saying, "Good-night Mr. Sherlock Holmes,...“I’ve heard that voice before,” said Holmes, star- ing down the dimly lit street. “Now, I wonder who the deuce that could have been.”

If Holmes had not underestimated her or underestimated the possibility that someone could have tipped her off, he probably would not have asked a Cabman who had known her, for information. His mistake was something that we all do constantly; that is we presume and underestimate the world around us. Holmes underestimated a woman. But how did he approach this mistake? After learning he has been duped by Irene, Holmes doesn't, at least for a time, make light of the cleverness of woman. It was his prejudice of woman that cost him the retrieval of the photograph so of course he kept watched his step afterwards.

What's the takeaway?

We all have moments when we allow our prejudice, presumptions, and general lack of follow through, to lead us to bad decisions. When we acknowledge our mistakes and keep in our memory banks what we did wrong, we allow ourselves to be guided towards better choices. Holmes did this regularly. In his stories, even though he could be egotistical and self centered he in many respects recognized his limitations and errors readily and did all he could to NOT REPEAT THE MISTAKE. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.” We all can make mistakes, but if we want to really grow, we have to recognize our mistakes and find firm ways to not repeat them again.

Try this: Get a notebook and keep a log of all of the things that you consider to be mistakes during the course of a week.

Be sure to write down:

  • how you made the mistake,

  • why you made the mistake ,

  • and steps you can take to ensure you don't repeat the mistake again.

During the week, if you find yourself making the same mistake again, put it the journal and follow the same action steps. Only this time ask yourself if you followed through on your steps to take to ensure you didn't repeat the mistake. If you didn't follow through on it, ask yourself "Why"? Were you being lazy mentally, were you tired, were you distracted? Find out the cause and write it down. Being deliberate about this can go a long way towards not only seeing your problem areas but also towards finding manful things about yourself.

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