Studying Too Much and Suffering Health Consequences: Sabrina Malter

Studying Too Much and Suffering Health Consequences: Sabrina Malter


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My guest for Episode #83 of the My Favorite Mistake podcast is Sabrina Malter, a Manager of Strategy and Organizational Change at Roche Diagnostics (in Germany).

Today, Sabrina shares two “favorite mistake” stories. One is about studying too much and not taking care of herself to the point that she lost her hearing for a period and suffered from short-term memory loss. How has she learned to notice the early warning signs of such overwork and stress? Her second story is about “playing it safe too much” and how “courage” was her theme for the year 2020.

We also talk about creating a workplace culture where it's safe to talk openly about mistakes, something we both agree is incredibly important. What happened when, as a fan of this podcast, she asked a new executive what his favorite mistake was? Oh, and here is our mutual friend Deondra Wardelle's website (and her “Root Cause Racism” project), as mentioned in the episode.

And, does she know what the word “verschlimmbesserung” means? She does and she'll explain what it means to her.

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Automated Transcript (Likely Contains Mistakes)

Mark Graban (0s):

Episode 83, Sabrina Malter, manager of strategy and organizational change, from Germany.

Sabrina Malter (8s):

And it was immediately clear that was a mistake. And I really quite quickly learned from it.

Mark Graban (19s):

I'm Mark Graban. This is My Favorite Mistake. In this podcast, you'll hear business leaders and other really interesting people talking about their favorite mistakes because we all make mistakes, but what matters is learning from our mistakes instead of repeating them over and over again. So this is the place for honest reflection and conversation, personal growth and professional success. Visit our website at For show notes, links, and more, go to Thanks for listening. Tday, we have a guest joining us for the first time from Germany.

Mark Graban (1m 1s):

She is Sabrina Malter. She is the manager of strategy and organizational change at Roche Diagnostics. So Sabrina, thank you for being here. I, I should say guten tag,

Sabrina Malter (1m 13s):

Thank you very much for having me great speaking German. Perfect. That's

Mark Graban (1m 18s):

About, I don't speak much more German than that, where I am. I should be saying for me, guten morgen.

Sabrina Malter (1m 26s):

Oh great. I think you were speaking much more… great pronounciation.

Mark Graban (1m 33s):

Really? Your English is a million times better than my German. I'm looking forward to the conversation today, but you know, if you can help get things started for us, please. Sabrina, what's your story about your favorite mistake?

Sabrina Malter (1m 49s):

Yes, certainly I have two, I have two, I have one more. That which came really immediately to my mind when I thought about my mistake. One thing where I really it's very clear for me what I'm doing when it happened. And it was immediately clear that it was a mistake and I really quite quickly learned from it. And I thought, oh yes, I would like to share that because it's really common, but still I think people are struggling with these things and it's perhaps nice to, to share it. And then I thought more and reflect it more because I'm really much in reflecting at the moment.

Sabrina Malter (2m 33s):

Not only because it's beginning of the year, but because I realized more and more how important and how powerful reflecting it is and just to do a program with our friend, Katie Anderson, and it's much about reflecting. And I recognize that there's another topic, which is not so easily. See, perhaps it wasn't easily to see for me, which has perhaps more profound. And so I want to share thanks. My, my, the first thing that came to my mind was when it's 15 years ago.

Sabrina Malter (3m 18s):

Now, when I was in my first study, I did this time study and I was also in my day job and have really long hours. And we're supposed to be stressful at this moment when I had to write my thesis in the day job and I thought I could just push through that and just go on and go on, go on the chest where the, my will. And then suddenly I had loss of hearing and I couldn't hear nearly anything and was really panicking. What what's that? And then I, and the next day I was at home and wanted to read an article just for destruction and easy article in the new newspaper.

Sabrina Malter (4m 6s):

And when I was on the bottom, I couldn't remember what, how it started. And I thought, oh no, I'm losing my brain if doesn't work anymore. And, and I didn't know what this moment that it will, two weeks later, it was quite better. Again, west was already better again. And so I really panicked. And therefore, perhaps it's a really sticked this, this peeping in my ear did takes much longer to go away, but after two, three weeks, yes, I could concentrate again quite normally. But at the moment I took a break from my study.

Sabrina Malter (4m 46s):

And since then I really took that with me. I know it's really important for me. And now I'm really grateful for this experience. When I have a slightest beeping in, in, in my, in my ear, I S I reflect, or I think about is perhaps too much. And if it's too much at most of the time, it is so my warning signal, then I slow down and then very consequent and really, yeah, putting myself first and both being consequent and also putting myself first. It's not that doesn't come natural to me. And, but I really do it because I think it doesn't happen to me. And doesn't think anyone who wants that I perform in some way, because yeah, it wouldn't, wouldn't go in this direction if I were to move on.

Sabrina Malter (5m 34s):

And I really learned that from this experience. And I think I, when I think of my friends, family colleagues, there are so many people who are just pushing, pushing, pushing, performing, performing, performing, and never taking a break and never putting this out for their house first. And if you don't have this warning Sigma, perhaps for me, it would be the same if I hadn't, if I wouldn't have this warning signal. And I think it's really important not to do that and take care. And so I really want to share that, and please everyone who's listening now take care. And even if you don't have this warning, cyclone like me, then take care of yourself, just reflect perhaps one time a week, if it's too much, do we have to slow down and yes, and put yourself first.

Mark Graban (6m 27s):

It it's, it's, I've never heard of that. It's, you know, the, the, the idea of, you know, the hearing loss, that effect of stress and overwork, it's certainly good that you've learned that early warning sign as, as you put it to avoid having, I guess, the, the full hearing loss again, I, I can see why that was so upsetting.

Sabrina Malter (6m 51s):

Yeah. Yes, really. And also this experience of not being able to concentrate, it was much even much more stressing and panic. Yeah. Yeah. They made me panicking and yeah.

Mark Graban (7m 4s):

Yeah. Cause I would worry between the hearing loss, the concentration problems, memory loss, you, you would be afraid that this was not a temporary effect that would just go away, but doctors were doctors reassuring that this might go away or was it a bit of a mystery to them?

Sabrina Malter (7m 25s):

It's it wasn't clear for them because it's really not. Yeah. If you don't know it, if someone has a certain hearing loss at, it could go in each direction and I was lucky and in twofold just for four, but it got better so quickly, but also for <inaudible> for, for having this experience and learning from that. Yeah. As you know, I'm really a big fan of your, podcast, My Favorite Mistake. And I really love it so much because I think it's, yes, it's so really important that we reflect about our mistakes and learn from them, but then not only learn for ourselves, but share around mistakes and so that everyone can, can drive on them.

Sabrina Malter (8m 15s):

And I'm really very passionate about to creating kind of learning culture in my organization where we do just that share our mistakes openly and learn together. And I'm convinced that that's really basic of our lean transformation when we can share our learnings and learn together and also half baked ideas and everything without being afraid that perhaps poet how much our that's, what to think about it and just share it. And so we can move on very when we foster and learn more and get better and better one step at a time. 

Sabrina Malter (8m 54s):

And therefore I really a kind of copied from you from your, from your podcast. And when we got our new site head in, in that last fall, and we had a virtual introduction because no one would be outside. And I asked him, what was your favorite mistake? And just to connect everyone in the audience, because everyone owned the ask technical questions and to him a little bit more and had the chance to get to know him a little bit more. And also to yet in normalize speaking about our mistakes and sharing them.

Sabrina Malter (9m 35s):

And that's really there, I'm really a little bit on a mission to, in place in my organization. So thank you for that.

Mark Graban (9m 41s):

Well, thank you for doing that in your workplace. I, you might not be comfortable sharing his answer, but did he, did he, he have a good story about a favorite mistake?

Sabrina Malter (9m 54s):

Yes. I have to say that it really came the idea to ask for his favorite mistake was really born in this moment. So I couldn't one him before and say, perhaps Richard liked to think about something. And she, he hit me really hard to answer spontaneously, and I really loved what he shared. It was a kind of a personal story when he wanted to, it wasn't a business trip and yeah, I wanted to just go to this additional meeting. And then he, then there was still a possibility to be on time, back by with us family.

Sabrina Malter (10m 34s):

But then there was a plus large empty. We couldn't, couldn't be at home as promised. And yes, he shared how with her, his family has some more children than, than that very small children at this time are they rejected? And he, he showed us a little, yes, but it's a toy from her farm history daughter, which reminds him that she really should prioritize family. I really love that.

Mark Graban (11m 3s):

Yeah. Well, there's another example of, yeah. Having a reminder for, for you Sabrina, it was an early warning sign and it sounds like for that leader, he, he carries that toy. That that's great to have that, that physical present reminder. So thank you for, for sharing that, you know, before we talk more about workplace culture and what, what you're doing to try to help, as, as you said, you know, normalize the idea of talking about mistakes. I wanted to ask you first, maybe about reflection. You mentioned Katie Anderson. She was the guest in episode 30 here.

Mark Graban (11m 44s):

And my, my favorite mistake with Saudia Shino and, you know, Katie talks a lot about intentional reflection. And you mentioned the group that you're a part of, I'm curious Sabrina. What you've learned is, is there a process that you go through for how to reflect, or is it more generalized to just step back and think about how your day went or how a project went or how a meeting might have gone?

Sabrina Malter (12m 13s):

Yes. The most important thing for me is really to do it or to try to do it regularly. I'm not always perfect. I don't have to be, but I always aim to reflect at least one time per week. And for me, for me, for myself, I really recognize that it comes much easier to me to stick to this habit of reflection. But when I share that, when I share it in person, in a conversation with my colleagues, and also I recognize that I, that my learning deepens what this conversation, or if that's not possible, or perhaps I do the reflection in the evening or, and trust, there's no one.

Sabrina Malter (12m 58s):

And I really sometimes just post something on LinkedIn and get this conversation. And it's also before the conversation starts, when I've just put it into words, it gets clearer to me. And then when you have some reactions and conversation that I can really benefit from that, yes. So I really need a conversation or dialogue. And that motivates me for reflection. That's my kind of trick, really, to stick to that tablet.

Mark Graban (13m 34s):

Yeah. So was three points there of one making a habit. And two, I think it's really interesting this idea of share it with somebody and the effect that, that has a conversation, a LinkedIn posts. Sometimes, maybe this is why sometimes people write down their reflections, whether they call that journaling or not, there's probably something really, really helpful about articulating it and not have it just stay inside your head.

Sabrina Malter (13m 60s):

Yes. Yes, exactly. Yeah.

Mark Graban (14m 2s):

So Sabrina, you had a second story before we talk about workplace dynamics. I was going to ask you if you could share that second favorite mistake that you were thinking of.

Sabrina Malter (14m 13s):

Yes, that is this second. I'm still in the learning process. It's because it wasn't easy to grasp it, but when we're reflecting, I thought, well, perhaps that's my biggest, I don't know if it's my favorite, but perhaps in the inside it will be again, my biggest mistake and I'm still in it in the moment kind of, I always said it for the, for the year and last, last year it was courage and voiceover silence. And I worked on this really with attention and, and reflection and yes, and really get some, yeah, moved forward and interviews with different people about courage, who I found inspiring.

Sabrina Malter (14m 59s):

And beginning of this year, I did a strategic vision board session with our friend Deondra Wardelle and it was really so great. And I said, my theme for this year, this is an unwell and grow. And I realized that perhaps that I choose these topics, that I recognize that there something that I have to be more courageous and have to focus on growing. And that's because I kind of, I didn't allow myself to really yes.

Sabrina Malter (15m 44s):

Fail to really engage in a mistake and learn from it. I really played it very safe in my, in my professional life. And perhaps when, at least when my, when, until my first child was born, I really was playing it very safe and not, not, yeah, I wasn't, I wasn't aware of that, but perhaps a little bit. Yeah, I'm aware. And, and so there was no mistake, but perhaps that was my, in the sum over time, that's really one of my biggest mistakes and I'm still a little bit in it to always play safe and to don't go take some risks and truly just go for it and go for the, what what's really important for me, what I really like to do.

Sabrina Malter (16m 40s):

And yes. And so my topic, the Mount where my theme this year, I'm wet and Crow. And I really focus on that. And I'm really excited because I want to step out of this mistake and I'm really convinced it isn't mistaken. Yeah. Yeah.

Mark Graban (16m 56s):

So thank you for sharing that as well, Sabrina, you know, it's interesting to think about the fear or the risk of making a mistake. There is also the fear of the, it could be a mistake to not take action. People sometimes talk about Lisa's this phrase, fear of missing out that's used in different contexts. Sometimes it's related to like why we're constantly looking at our phones. Like I might be missing something and that something might not be important, but yeah. So I, I appreciate you sharing, you know, that goal to be more courageous. Was it, was that, was that your theme for last year or was that the theme here for 2021?

Sabrina Malter (17m 39s):

That was my theme for last year. And for this year, it's really this unwell and true if I need to on upon each other. Yeah.

Mark Graban (17m 46s):

Yeah. So what was, I guess maybe I'll ask then to reflect on 2020, how, how did you, how do you feel like you did in terms of being more courageous?

Sabrina Malter (17m 59s):

I really moved forward and that's, that's, what's important for me. I didn't set a kind of target or a specific goal, but what I wanted to do justice, and I didn't know what 2020 would bring and yes. And fraud was really yeah. Heartbreak and Irwin. We, when you think of as the, the unrest in, in whether black lives matter movement and following the murder of George Floyd and yeah, it was really, yeah, I didn't expect that.

Sabrina Malter (18m 40s):

And this topic of respect and of one deeply connected humanity, that's really near and dear to my heart. And so I have to say, plus for my personal personal growth topics, it came quite easy for me to choose a voice over silence. It came naturally. It wasn't difficult because that topic royally. So, so dear to my heart and in when, when something thing is important to me, I, then it's not so hard to take courage. And I think how it just will connect it to from it's from the Latin word of hard core, and really what's, what's the, it, then you really take action, which, which has connected to that.

Sabrina Malter (19m 33s):

And it took this claim and really set my intention weekly on the annual theme and reflected. I, I think I could take what I learned from, from this experience to, to other topics and chest chest. Yeah. To things in the business world, which are also important to me. But perhaps it's not so easy because it's not so, so clear that I have to, to, to use my voice. And, but I could really take this experience with me and learn from that.

Sabrina Malter (20m 17s):

Yeah. I also, in, in all this context I have, I had to match the, your entree. And I also had met one colleague of mine is Keith market. And they are really to worry inspiring people. And I, when I, when I reflected about, yeah, same courage and I also love the term fear, walking, just walking for your fear and not without, but through your fear towards what's important to you. I really had to think instead of have to think of both of them off the on-trend Keith and they're so perfect role models for me, that really made it easy for me.

Sabrina Malter (20m 57s):

Thank you both. <inaudible>

Mark Graban (20m 60s):

Yeah. I was going to add, yeah, our mutual friend Deondra Wardelle I will put a link in the show notes to her website. So if people want to learn more about strategic vision boards and Deondra, and I collaborated with many other people last year on a project that's still ongoing called root cause racism and Deondra now has a website And I, you know, in, in partnering with Deondra, I also chose to use my voice more last year, as, as, as you put it Sabrina, there was perhaps some might've said, well, there there's risk of speaking out, but then I thought, well, there's there's risk that comes from not speaking out about, about injustice and problems.

Mark Graban (21m 51s):

And if I didn't speak out, what would people, people might guess or assume what I was thinking? And I decided it's better to have my voice out there and, and, and make it clear. This is, this is where I stand. This is what I believe. And if somebody doesn't like that, that's their problem. I decided to be a little bit more courageous that way. Well, and I'm not the only one you you've spoken up. I applaud you and the others who have been leaders in, in, in this front, but, you know, Sabrina, I want to come back to something you brought up earlier about trying to intentionally create a culture in your workplace where it's safe to talk about mistakes so that we can share learning.

Mark Graban (22m 34s):

I was wondering if you could share a little bit more about that. Are there other concrete steps beyond asking, you know, as you did asking your new leader about a favorite mistake, what are some other things that, that you've done to build this?

Sabrina Malter (22m 50s):

Yes. Just working with, with colleagues really, to invite, to invite ideas and to invite experiences. And so I would say also asking for mistakes and what have you learned perhaps in the past that I really make clear that what what's at stake and that I don't, I can't can't yes. Have the best idea and can't do it alone. You have to, you have to use all the brains in the room or in the workshop room. And so just in why this conversation and so that everyone knows, I want to hear their ideas.

Sabrina Malter (23m 33s):

And then I think it's really important to yeah. When you get the ideas and perhaps sometimes chatting challenging commands and are challenging chords. I don't like everything, but really it's really important, I think, to react productively. And so that's no one, yeah. W I would shy away in the future and everyone else who is listening, won't show you ways to yes. To share their ideas and also challenging ideas, because that's still, perhaps it's not what I have to say for me.

Sabrina Malter (24m 16s):

Yeah. The, the first reaction when I have an idea and really love it. Yes. I, I don't really like that. It's challenged and perhaps that's quite normal. And, but in the, when you know, that sort, or perhaps 10 minutes later, I really appreciate it and enhance that often, it gets really better when you have your idea challenged and it really crowds from that. And it's so important that we don't stop people to, to challenge even things that we are really yes, totally convinced and passionate about.

Sabrina Malter (24m 59s):

And perhaps it's really about the right rate, but it's important to, to invite everyone also to challenge these ideas. So it, because some point of time we will go in one direction and perhaps it's not the right direction and there's a big risk. And if we don't, yes. If we don't invite everyone to, to challenge, then there will be perhaps already four people in our organization who saw that we are chest running to what's a wall and didn't say anything because they're around, I didn't feel invited.

Sabrina Malter (25m 39s):

And they didn't feel that they yeah. That they were allowed to, to, to challenge this throughout the year. And that would be yes. Even more frustrating. Yeah.

Mark Graban (25m 51s):

Yeah. Well, thank you for, you know, embracing the theme of this podcast series that we, we all make mistakes, but we should be open about it. We should learn from them. Listeners and viewers wouldn't know, Sabrina was very kind to me. I made a couple of mistakes before we started recording. I've misread my calendar. And I thought we were starting 15 minutes later than the time that was actually scheduled. So that was, that was, that was embarrassing on my part. I needed to figure out how to, how to prevent that in the future. You know, the meeting that at the time was scheduled to start 15 minutes after the hour. And that's somewhat an unusual time, but Sabrina managed to show up on time.

Mark Graban (26m 36s):

So that's my problem. I apologize. But before we wrap up, Sabrina, does, I want to share a word with you and ask you about, and that's a German word. I'm afraid to say it out loud. I am going to hear, I'm going to share my screen and show you this word. This is a German word that I learned last year. CA can I ask you to, to say that word out loud and tell me what it means to you?

Sabrina Malter (27m 0s):

Okay. Verschlimmbesserung .

Mark Graban (27m 4s):

Why I was afraid to say it.

Sabrina Malter (27m 6s):

It's not really, really as correct a German word, but, but sometimes we lose it. It means that you want to improve something and I have to make it more complicated or in another rate. Yeah. Let's go as it was before and just, you want to improve, improve, but perhaps you didn't really go through the study and the chest cycling and perhaps just set your plan and, and stool. And then you're not, perhaps you are not really, it's not pretty prospect.

Sabrina Malter (27m 47s):

And so you have to plan and to again, a plan and do it again and always keep your study in a trust. And so it gets worse and worse because you really learn from, from what you did and you didn't really crest the current situation. And so, yeah, that's especially miserable.

Mark Graban (28m 5s):

And thank you for saying it and thank you for, you know, I learned that word last year. I think it's a word that fits so well with continuous improvement and with the mindset that you were talking about that sometimes we try to make things better. We've actually made it worse. Some people might view that as a mistake, but I think, you know, as you've been describing, we need to frame, we need to be honest about that. And that helps us learn and move forward. And as you put it study, as we've studied the situation and found, we actually made things worse, we can adjust and go back and try something different. So can you say the word one more time?

Mark Graban (28m 45s):

And then I'm going to try to say it

Sabrina Malter (28m 48s):


Mark Graban (28m 52s):


Sabrina Malter (28m 53s):

Yes. Yes. And I think it's really not perhaps yeah. Should really not really talk about PDSA, but about S A P D and to really always start with this study and adjust and this put on what we already know about the problem, the process, and then go into planning and doing yeah.

Mark Graban (29m 20s):

Yeah. So we can try to prevent failed improvement attempts when we, when we start off by really studying the situation.

Sabrina Malter (29m 29s):

Yes. Yes. Most importantly, don't skip it. No,

Mark Graban (29m 33s):

No, don't skip that step. So Sabrina, thank you for letting me throw that at you at the last minute. I think you did a really nice job today. Thank you for being patient with me. Our guest has been Sabrina Malter again, she's the manager of strategy and organizational change at Roche Diagnostics. Sabrina. This is, this was really a pleasure. I'm glad you could do it. Thank you for being here

Sabrina Malter (29m 57s):

Very much. Thank you. Thank you, Mark.

Mark Graban (30m 0s):

Thanks again to Sabrina for being a great guest for show notes, links, and more, you can go to, and I hope this podcast inspires you to reflect on your own mistakes and how you can learn from them or turn them into a positive I've had listeners tell me they've started being more open and honest about mistakes and their work. And they're trying to create a workplace culture where it's safe to speak up about problems, cause that leads to more improvement and better business results. If you have feedback or a story to share, you can email me And again, our website is

Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus. He is also a Senior Advisor and Director of Strategic Marketing with the healthcare advisory firm, Value Capture.