Do we Learn More from Successes or Failures?

Amit Garg asks whether we learn more from successes than failure. He mentions an article on Science Daily that suggests brain cells learn more from successes than failures. Well, at least that’s how monkeys learn based on a research by scientists at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory according to the article. Do read the interesting conversation ongoing on his blog post.

Do organizations learn from successes? Do they even attempt at learning from successes? I don’t think organizations and managers do a good job at learning from successes. And I am as guilty as anyone else of this. The whole management review governance structures are built around learning from mistakes and ignoring successes. We have goals and measure progress against these. If our goals are consistently being met, there’s hardly any time spent on reviews. However if the goals aren’t met, or a perhaps a project has gone bad, we spend inordinate amount of time doing root cause analysis and identifying corrective actions. Of course root cause analysis and identify corrective actions are absolutely required and we really can’t afford not to do these. We do need to prevent problems from recurring and look for ways to continuously improve the process. However we hardly spend any time in learning what we might be doing right when goals are met, or from projects that went well.

We celebrate successes but don’t necessarily attempt to learn from them formally as much as we attempt to learn from mistakes. Our former Creative Director would go sore screaming at managers including me, (not literally, don’t get me wrong now) on why we weren’t looking at the 9 projects that went well instead of trying to find out why 1 project went bad.

Why don’t we learn from successes? Could it because it is harder to learn from successes? Or perhaps successes are expected from each of us and we are just doing our job when we succeed. And if we are already doing our job well, what’s to learn?

It would be interesting to know if there are any formal methods of learning from successes, like there are for learning from failures. Any best practices from organizations out there?

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