Don’t Just Learn From Failure; Learn From Your Successes

Research Featured in Wall Street Journal Article

We all like to think that we are the reason for our successes. (We don’t always feel that way about our failures, of course.) So when running postmortems, such attribution bias, or the tendency to make attributions about the cause of our behavior and that of others in a way that doesn’t match reality, can lead us to conclude that our success is due to our brilliance and skill, not luck. That makes learning from success a challenge, as success makes us incurious and overly confident in our abilities.

In a study that Brad Staats of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and I conducted with Chris Myers of Johns Hopkins, we asked participants to work on two different decision-making tasks spaced one week apart. Each task had a correct solution, but generally only a few people were able to identify it. We found that participants who believed they failed on the first activity were almost three times as likely to succeed on the second activity. They learned from their failure and made better decisions as a result. We would all benefit from bringing the same learning mind-set to our successes.

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