Making mistakes best way to improve – MEST, Ashesi founders

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Making mistakes and effectively analysing and learning from them is the best way to help students and entrepreneurs improve, according to the founders of the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST), and Ashesi University.

Last week’s Africa Technology Summit (ATS) – hosted by the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) – featured a dual-fireside chat with Jorn Lyseggen, founder of MEST, and Patrick Awuah, founder and president of Ghana’s Ashesi University.

Both involved in educating and training students and innovators, the founders agreed that hands-on experience, and in particular the experience of making mistakes, is the most valuable tool in learning and improvement.

“Some of my team wanted to get formal training with a certificate as evidence of the skill acquired. I resisted initially, but later gave in. But most of the learning actually takes place by giving people room to grow and make mistakes,” said Awuah.

“The important thing is to make new mistakes, and not to repeat them. If you never make mistakes it means you are not working nearly hard enough. But if you make mistakes, you find that it is an intrinsic part of learning,” he said.

“At MEST we really push the EITs [entrepreneurs-in-training] and throw them into the deep end.  That brings out the best in them through the mistakes they make,” said Lyseggen.

The question of how to translate mistakes into constructive learning is a topic that saw the founders differ in approach.  Awuah described a process of in-depth analysis of a mistake made, while Lyseggen said MEST focuses largely on the positive take-aways and strengths of a given situation.

“We analyze the mistakes and write a failure report. It wasn’t very popular initially but it helped us to identify the things we screwed up and helps us find the areas of improvement,” explained Awuah.

“To get people to engage more I had to come back and ask them to also identify the things they did very well. We do this for the department so that it doesn’t affect them personally. And that also helps with their confidence and participation,” he said.

“I was given feedback by some people who had attended a leadership programme that we need to build on the strengths. I find that sometimes we focus on the weaknesses too much. It’s refreshing, according to them, to work on the strengths. The dialogue should be more on working on the strength of the individuals,” Lyseggen said.

According to Lyseggen, it is important to realise learning is a process.  People – including the founders themselves – should always work to step-by-step gain pieces of knowledge they didn’t have before.

“There’s something about learning that is not linear or continuous. I think it is a step function. A big part of learning is to know that you have something in you that you did not know previously,” Lyseggen said.

“It is about coming from the point where you are scared, to the point where you realize that you have what it take to rise to the occasion. From that moment you discover a new you and grow into the task,” he said.

“Usually when you put people in a challenging situation, they discover their best self, and greater potential.”

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Inspired and excited by the African tech entrepreneurial scene, Gabriella spends her time travelling around the continent to report on the most innovative tech startups, the most active investors, and the latest trends emerging in the ecosystem.

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