You have likely read or heard the phrase; you need to failure to learn. Is this always true? What has your experience been? If you have learnt from failing, do you understand what made it a learning experience?

A study in learning from failure

Ayelet Fishbach, an expert on motivation and decision making at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, points out that learning from failure, contrary to what we are generally told, is not a common response, in fact our response is often not to learn.

Ayelet Fishback and her research team conducted several experiments of approx. 1,600 people.

  • Participants were asked two questions, to guess a right answer.
  • They were told whether they got the answer right or wrong.
  • If they got it wrong, were told the correct answer.
  • In a follow-up, participants were asked the same questions, to see if they learnt.
  • Even though those who failed had been told the right answer, they still generally got the question wrong a second time.

In short failure for those who failed the first time, had not proved to be a learning experience

Why do we not always learn from failure?

Reflect on a failure of yours? How did it feel?

  • Yes, you got it, failure most likely felt uncomfortable.
  • And the uncomfortable feeling likely impacted your self-esteem.
  • When your self-esteem was impacted, you may have assumed, I am not good at this.
  • Uncomfortable experiences increases likelihood we will tune out of the experience.
  • When we tune out, we do not learn.

I do not know about you, however if I reflect on my own failure-learning journey, I can easily recall a number of things that took me a while to learn.

In fact, I know in several instances, I had several rounds of failure before I took on the implications of the learning, to use the failure to improve my wellbeing and/or my performance.

I am guessing I am not alone in this experience?

How do you use failure as a learning experience?

There are a few key out-takes from the study, they include:

  • It is essential to acknowledge that failure is hard, it can feel uncomfortable.
  • That at worst it can challenge your self-esteem and it can lead you to tune out.
  • Hence, it is important that you and others be coached on how to fail.

Be your own coach and use the three W’s

Coaching is about facilitating insight. You can use coaching strategies to facilitate insight for yourself and/or for others.

I encourage you to ask yourself or have others ask themselves three questions, in this specific order.

  1. What went well?
  2. What went wrong?
  3. What will work better?

Doing so, takes you through an experience where you can:

  • Acknowledge you put yourself at risk of failure in your desire to learn or improve.
  • Understand what is relevant to what went wrong; the facts, the process, the over-arching strategy or how it impacted you/others?
  • Build insight on how to make things better; to get solutions and future focused.

By using these three questions, you can help yourself or others to stay tuned in, and so you will increase your likelihood and opportunity for learning.

Leverage the experience of failure

The study had another important learning.

They found, that when they had participants observe others failure, learning generally took place.

Yes, that is right, those observing did not experience a hit to their self-esteem so they did not tune out. They found the observers took on the learning experience from the failure by others.

It is therefore important to share experience of failure. Whether this be you sharing your experience with your team, or the team being given access to a relevant experience of learning from failure by others.

I wish you great learning. I encourage you to continue your journey towards peak wellbeing and high performance.

ciao Jan

Source: You learn more from success than failure.