If you have no idea who Yoda is, you should stop reading this article. You are going to either be confused or call me a geek, and we both don’t need to start our days that way. If you are familiar with Yoda, you probably remember his famous line from The Empire Strikes Back, “Do or do not. There is no try.” This line has been hijacked and copied by millions of the world’s amateur philosophers about why or why not this is a great mantra in which to build your mindset.

I think it has been misinterpreted. If we stipulate that Yoda is a great coach, he probably knows that you learn through failure and not the avoidance of it. The word “do” in this case refers to the process of accomplishing something that you have never done before.

Part of the process is reflection. It is critical to learn from our successes as well as our failures, but that means we must talk about them. And, we must do so with others, not just within ourselves.

The process of using reflective, After Action Reviews has been studied extensively in the military and corporations to measure their effectiveness. The research shows that even after we succeed at an activity, mission, or performance, it is still important to focus on what went wrong. Failure is our greatest instructor, and discussing it should not be avoided. After action reviews help build the mental models for the future when we encounter new circumstances, and we probably will make new mistakes. Things to try with your team/performers:

  1. After each client/prospect engagement, schedule 15 minutes to ask the following questions:
    • What was supposed to happen?
    • What actually DID happen?
    • Why did that happen?
    • How do we improve it for next time?
  2. At your next team/group meeting, pick one of these engagements and discuss as a group. What went well? What did not? What did we learn? Have we seen this before?
  3. Work hard to identify the most minute failure in the biggest successes. Glory tends to obscure a future problem, so don’t pretend it is not there. There is always something to learn.

So, I will cut Yoda some slack. He didn’t mean “just do it” (which would have gotten him in hot water with the Nike legal department). He meant that you cannot quit simply because you think that it is impossible or too arduous a path to get there. There is no try means that you must do it over and over again until you actually can. Then, we move on to levitating heavier objects.

That last line was a metaphor, by the way. I assure you, I am quite sane.


If you keep making new and different mistakes, that means you are doing new things and learning new things.
— David Kelley