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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Risk Takers for Christ

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Frequently in the Gospel accounts, Jesus teaches us to be watchful for his return. Mark 13:33 reads: “Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come.” Likewise, Luke 12:35 echoes the Parable of the Ten Virgins: “Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit.” But right after the Parable of the Ten Virgins we read an enignmatic Parable of the Talents that not only talks about watchfulness, but also gives guidance on how to wait.

First Two Servants

The parable starts off with advice about being watchful, but then goes on: “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.” (Matt 25:14-15) But then we are told how the first two servants invest the master’s money and double his principal, ,while the third servant buries the master’s money in ground. When the master returns, he settles accounts with each of the servants. The first two servants present the master with his principal and the earnings from their investments. In both cases, the master responds with the same statement: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matt 25:21,23) Clearly, the money grants were a test, the master is pleased, and the master rewards them with greater responsibility.

The Third Servant

The case of the third servant is most revealing because he acts out of fear: “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.” (Matt25:24-25) The master calls this servant “wicked and slothful” and reiterates his characterization by the servant as a hard man, suggesting that he agrees that he is, but he goes on to suggest: “Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.” Matt (25:27) In so many words, the master suggests that the third servant is both cowardly and imprudent, because depositing the money with a banker requires accepting very little risk of financial loss. The master takes the money given to the third servant and gives it to the first. Then, the third servant is described as worthless and condemned to perdition, a penalty too harsh for many modern people to even to hear.

Context of the Parable

So what are we to make of this parable? The first thing to note is the context. Immediately after the Parable of the Talents is parable of judgment, where the goats and the sheep are separated. Then, in chapter 26 of Matthew we read: “When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” (Matt 26:1-2) The implication is that the three parables in chapter 25 are given to prepare the disciples for Jesus’ death, resurrection, and second coming. All three suggest that the disciples should be watchful of Christ’s return, but only the Parable of the Talents suggests how to spend the time while Jesus is absent.


What is the lesson? Knowing that Christ will return, we should be cheerful in our work, not fearful, as we take risks with our spiritual gifts to advance the Kingdom of God. Cheerful risk takers, not fearful hoarders, are the one’s described as good and faithful servants.

Risk Takers for Christ

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A Risk Manager’s Prayer

Doldrums, Sand Dune in Ocean City, MarylandBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty Father,

Forgive me for leaning on insurance policies rather than my faith in you.

Forgive me for building barns while children go to bed hungry (Luke 12:18).

Forgive me for a hard heart taking my cues from Pharoah when Jesus has shown us a better way (Matt 6:26).

As the hymnist [1] writes:

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Oh Lord, shape me in your image again in spite of my ignorance, my selfishness, my greed, and my self-pity.

Turn my heart to you, that I might live a better way through the power of your Holy Spirit.

And in Jesus’ name, Amen.



A Risk Manager’s Prayer

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