Learn from Failure AND Success
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When “successful” people are interviewed, they often make the statement, “I’ve learned more from my failures than my successes.” I disagree with that sentiment –  highlighting failure somehow paves the way to success. I don’t believe that we grow or learn more from failing than succeeding. Learning and growing come from trying new things and reflecting on the results of the experience, whether it works the way we intended or not.

“Failure learning” is part of human nature. When we fail, we obviously don’t want to repeat the experience, so we take time to reflect – What went wrong? What can I do to prevent the pain, humiliation or frustration from happening again? This is where the learning takes place, not from the failure itself.

The problem with focusing on failure is that it’s reactive, emotional, and employs deficit thinking – fixing something that’s wrong or broken, rather than leveraging what’s working. Research from Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management has found that while in a stressful state, one is cognitively, emotionally and socially impaired, while positive experiences strengthen the ability to anticipate and heighten positive potential. This research has led to the groundbreaking practices of Emotional Intelligence and Appreciative Inquiry, used globally to foster excellence and innovation.

Here are some tips for “success learning” – reflecting on a successful outcome, on what went right:

  1. Get in the habit of reviewing results against intentions, whether through an informal debrief or a formal process like the “After Action Review” (AAR) developed by the US Army.  Conducted immediately after an operation, AAR is a structured comparison of intended vs. actual results – analyzing what happened, why it happened and how it can be done better.
  2. Book-end your plan:
  • Prepare. Visualize the result you want to achieve. Anticipate what could go wrong and build in preventative and contingent actions. Consider past experiences and leanings that could help in successful execution.
  • Execute your plan.
  • Reflect.  What went right?  What obstacles did you face, and how did you manage yourself through those obstacles?  What unexpected events or reactions occurred? What did you learn about yourself and the other party?  How can you use this knowledge to create successes in the future?

Everything you are today is because of the life you’ve led – the failures and the successes, so make time to reflect on ALL of your experiences.

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