How to Learn From Failure

cc image used courtesy of connors got heart on flickr

So often when talking about innovation or change we hear someone say don’t be afraid to fail. That is harder than it sounds, I mean really; who wants to fail? Who wants to stand up in front of a group, no matter how big or how small and admit they were wrong. I know some people would admit they were wrong, but no one wants to be wrong.

Part of the problem is failure is seen as a waste of time, of money or other resources.  But we can learn a lot from failure as Jonah Lehrer writes Accept Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up

Too often, we assume that a failed experiment is a wasted effort. But not all anomalies are useless. Here’s how to make the most of them

  1. Check Your Assumptions - Ask yourself why this result feels like a failure. What theory does it contradict? Maybe the hypothesis failed, not the experiment.
  2. Seek Out the Ignorant -  Talk to people who are unfamiliar with your experiment. Explaining your work in simple terms may help you see it in a new light.
  3. Encourage Diversity – If everyone working on a problem speaks the same language, then everyone has the same set of assumptions.
  4. Beware of Failure-Blindness - It’s normal to filter out information that contradicts our preconceptions. The only way to avoid that bias is to be aware of it.

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5 comments for “How to Learn From Failure

  1. Ben
    February 9, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    I think David Foster Wallace said it very well when he talked about how within failure there is always a victory.

  2. Jeff Johnson
    February 10, 2010 at 10:16 am

    Great post Bobbi – I agree 100%. In fact, at a summer “camp” I attended in 2003, one of our themes was celebrating failure. It sounds odd until you think about it but everyone that succeeded at anything knows what it takes to get there – try, try again, improve, learn, teach others. :-)

    • February 10, 2010 at 3:43 pm

      Right on, Jeff!! Best things for us AND kids to learn…

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