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How to win or learn like Nelson Mandela, rather than simply repeating mistakes
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Nelson Mandela famously said:

I never lose. I either win or learn.

You’ve probably seen this quote many times already. I see it myself on a regular basis on LinkedIn, and I like it!

There is no question that Nelson Mandela was a great man and has made his footprint in history.

The sentence in itself conveys a very positive message: one of forward movement, seeing the good side of things, and being positive!

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that this sentence can be used or interpreted in many different ways, leading to repetitive failures rather than success.

It potentially puts you in a state of mind where you feel it’s okay to make as many mistakes as you want, because you’re actually learning – every single time!

The question is: do you REALLY learn when you lose? If so, why do people tend to repeat the exact same mistakes over and over?

Alternatively, you could take it as “let’s ignore this mistake, it wasn’t really a mistake anyway, right?”.

Instead, it’s perhaps worth also considering this quote from an unknown author:

Learn from the mistakes of others. You can never live long enough to make them all yourself.

Let’s consider these 2 points:

1. Make sure you’re learning from your own mistakes

That means you need to first acknowledge your mistakes, perhaps even publicly to make you even more self-aware.

Then you need to conduct your own Black Box Analysis (inspired by Black Box Thinking) and identify the root cause of the mistakes and how to avoid it next time.

It’s only by doing these 2 things that you will really be able to learn from your mistakes, and avoid repeating them next time.

The same applies for organisations: people need to learn from each other’s mistakes. Which leads us to the 2nd point.

2. Learn from the mistakes of others

Re-consider this: You can never live long enough to make all mistakes yourself“. You have to learn from others if you want to succeed.

I’ve often read misleading articles about the “Test and Learn approach: Test, Test, Test, and you’ll probably end up finding what works for you”.

This type of message has been amplified and encouraged over the last few years by A/B Testing companies. Of course, the more you test, the longer you will be using their software.

To quote Jochen, my business partner:

“A/B Testing and MVT often translate into throwing Yak’s shit against the wall and seeing what sticks”.


Put somewhat differently: you need to have a strong hypothesis before launching any A/B Tests and you also need to make sure you have enough traffic otherwise you’re simply playing a guessing game that might never pay off.

The good news is that if you have a website that you want to improve, there are many things you can do to make it better, sooner rather than later, and without the need for A/B Testing.

The purpose of this article is not to tell you specifically how to optimise your website for better conversions, but to put it in broad terms, this is what you want to do:

  • You want to find quick wins
  • You want to know sooner rather than later what’s good for your website
  • You want to avoid what others, with similar businesses to yours, did wrong
  • Ultimately, test strong hypotheses to validate them (if you have enough traffic to do so)

Okay, Dr Watson, but how can you do this with a good level of certainty?

Well, think about what your website has in common with EVERY other website: USERSreal people who are driven by their emotions.

This means that, with a good understanding of users’ behaviour, you can fix many existing issues on your website, find your quick wins and avoid the mistakes others have made before you.

This is where consumer psychology and the science of persuasion can help. Social psychologists and behavioural economists, such as Daniel Kahneman or Dan Ariely, have conducted in-depth research to prove how people react in certain contexts or situations. They have proven that people are driven by emotions and cognitive biases and so, if you know how to apply persuasion tactics to your website, it will make your life much easier.

Of course, you can apply this to your personal life too. Social psychology is a fascinating subject and I always recommend reading up on this to my friends and team members.

Philippe Aimé

by Philippe Aimé

Philippe is the CEO of Convertize. He created his first website in 1998 and has spent the past 20 years finding ways to make digital marketing more persuasive. He now heads a team of CRO consultants.

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Philippe is a web developer, digital marketer and conversion rate obsessive. He started Convertize back in 2008.

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