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Learning Through Success and Not Failure


Failure is an excellent teacher, if you process the information correctly and see what to do next. However, celebrating failure is simply not the best avenue for success.

“Daring to fail” and “Failing forward” are two of the common teachings on the importance of failure.

A research study was recently done by the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. They conducted five experiments in which 1,600 participants answered a series of binary-choice questions. The participants receive feedback on their answers, learning why their answers were either correct or incorrect.

The researchers then retested the participants using different questions but still using the content of the original questions. 

Those who answered incorrectly the first time and received “failure feedback” still made the same mistakes. Those who “succeeded” remembered the lessons well and again answered correctly.

The experimenters hypothesized that self-esteem may be playing a major factor: “It just doesn’t feel good to fail, so people tune out and don’t learn from the feedback.”

Another series of experiments removed the self-esteem portion of the participants by letting them observe others’ failures instead of experiencing it themselves. The researchers found that the majority learned equally well from observing failures or successes.

This experiment showed that when the prospect of personal failure is removed, people tune in better and can then learn from their failures.

Personal failures can still be a valuable source of learning but not as valuable as learning from your successes. So ask yourself, “What did I do right last time?”

How did you manage to hold your anger last week when your kids were running amuck? Can you do it again?

Back in college, you were able to pass those terribly hard exams. How did you do it? Your upcoming business certification exam can’t be any harder.

Success breeds success.



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