Maxwell Learns from Mistakes

Maxwell_review_20200304John Maxwell. 2013.  Sometimes You Win; Sometimes You Learn:  Life’s Greatest Lessons Are Gained from Our Losses.  New York:  Center Street.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Working in enterprise risk management in the early years of the housing crisis, I observed that firms with good risk management cultures invested heavily in learning from their mistakes[1].  Consequently, John Maxwell’s title, Sometimes You Win; Sometimes You Learn, was obviously of interest.


Maxwell is not a new face.  Maxwell is a prolific writer well-known for books on management and leadership.  When I went looking in 2008 for a book on leadership, for example, I settled on his book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007)

Maxwell’s background as a successful pastor in San Diego, California (47) is intriguing.  Because pastors lead by example and primarily manage volunteers, they need to be experts at motivating people.  Maxwell is no exception. Maxwell states his purpose in writing as:  to help you learn how to learn—from your losses, failures, mistakes, challenges, and bad experiences (213-214).  He observes that:  A loss isn’t totally a loss if you learn something as a result (16).  He organizes his book around a list of virtues and other attributes:  humility, reality, responsibility, improvement, hope, teachability, adversity, problems, bad experiences, change, and maturity (18).  He also employs lists in each of his chapters to organize his thoughts.

Be Teachable

For example, Maxwell reports that teachability is a key attitude of a learner.  He defines teachability as:  possessing the intentional attitude and behavior to keep learning and growing throughout life (108).  Maxwell breaks teachability down into 5 traits of a teachable person and 3 daily practices. 

The 5 traits of a teachable person are:  (1) an attitude conductive to learning, (2) a beginner’s mind-set, (3) someone who takes, long hard looks in the mirror, (4) someone who encourages others to speak into their lives, and (5) someone who learns something new every day (109-118).  The 3 daily practices required to become more teachable are:  (1) preparation, (2) contemplation, and (3) application (119-122).  Because teachability is an attitude, it is something that we can clearly embrace in our personal and business lives.

Like a good pastor, Maxwell peppers his writing with stories about and quotes from people who illustrate his points.  One of his first and favorite is UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden (ix).  Maxwell likes to quote coaches, but he also quotes business leaders, pastors, presidents, authors, and personal acquaintances.  The use of stories makes his writing accessible; the citing of particular individuals makes his writing memorable.


Maxwell inspires hope. The continuing high level of unemployment six years after the onset of the Great Recession has left a lot of American in despair, not knowing how to find work or, if they have work, how to improve the quality and pay of the work they have.  Maxwell’s book speaks into this despair.  Each of us can learn from our losses and bad experiences–the essence of hope is to see how our daily lives contribute to our plans for the future.  I found Sometimes You Win; Sometimes You Learn hard to put down.  I suspect that you will too.


[1]This was a major insight gained in a series of articles that I published a few years ago under the title: Can Bad Culture Kill a firm? (e.g.

Maxwell Learns from Mistakes

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Prayer for Teachers

Math teacher at Lee_HS
Math and Chemistry Teacher

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Heavenly Father:

We praise you for bringing good teachers into our lives.

Teachers that care, are well-trained, and work tirelessly to help us learn—

teachers better than we deserve!

Help us to listen to advice and accept instruction (Prov 19:20) and

teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom (Ps 90:12)

because we confess that we often tire of learning and spend too little time on it.

Thank you none-the-less for those that labor to instruct us

that we might mature into people of wisdom and faith, and

not stumble through life in ignorance for lack of guidance.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, enlighten our minds and open our hearts

that we might grow more like you day by day.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Prayer for Teachers

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Giving Thanks 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

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Books, Films, and Ministry

Books reviewed

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

For years, I divided the world into three kinds of people:  those who never learn, those who learn from their mistakes, and those who learn from other people’s mistakes. Book ministry helps move people into this latter category by connecting them with books they can use.

Book Ministry and Reviews

One way to undertake a book ministry is to give away good books.  Years ago in my office, a colleague started a book drive where he encouraged employees to bring in old, unwanted books that would be set out for display.  People could choose any book, pay what they thought it was worth, and the money raised was donated to charity.  Most of the books donated were steamy romance and murder novels.  I thought, why not throw in a few good Christian titles?

Another way to undertake a book ministry is to give people books that focus on the issues they are struggling with.  My favorite wedding gift for many years, for example, has been Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s Boundaries. Another frequent gift for inactive, older friends and family was Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge’s Younger Next Year, which explains in detail why exercise will extend and enrich your life. After gifting a book, I would check up later to see what they thought of it.

Another variation on the book ministry theme is to give relatives the same book or inspirational DVD as a Christmas gift.  The idea is to generate buzz in the family about a helpful topic and to move conversation away from the weather, sports highlights, and the latest tragedy on television.  While this may be akin to mission impossible, inspirational DVDs accomplish the same objective.  A modestly priced example is:  The Star of Bethlehem (2009) by Frederick A. Larson and Stephen Vidano.

Speaking of Christmas, why not wrap up your favorite inspirational titles and DVDs and bring them as gifts when you go caroling at the local retirement center, jail, or psyche ward?  People in these places have a lot of time on their hands and the cable channels are unfortunately a major part of their entertainment.  DVDs are also useful in reaching young people.


Over time, my book ministry evolved into blogging reviews of good books and writing books of my own.  While I have reviewed a few newly published books, most books that I review are more than a couple years old.  The reason is simple: I am trying to introduce readers to books that have changed my life in some way.  Hopefully, my books and reviews will help readers learn from my experience.


Cloud, Henry and John Townsend. 1992.  Boundaries:  When to Say YES; When to Say NO; To Take Control of Your Life. Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

Crowley, Chris and Henry S. Lodge. 2007. Younger Next Year:  Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy Until You’re 80 and Beyond. New York:  Workman Publishing.

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