My blog has focused on the lessons we learn from toxic work cultures, bossholes, narcissistic CEO’s, and many other misery-inducing issues. Why? Because we learn from these workplace mistakes. It is not my intent to make leaders feel guilty and run. My motivation is to tell the truth rather than sugar-coat issues.
Robert Sutton, a professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University and the author of Good Boss, Bad Boss, sheds light on learning from successes and failures. Controlled laboratory experiments tell us that we, in fact, learn more from failure than success. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Sutton stated, “Experiencing failure does lead to more richer mental models than experiencing success.”
It amazes me how many companies don’t have time to stop and think about what they learned, but seem to have the time to keep making the same mistakes over and over and over again. — Robert Sutton
Sutton also has provided very good recommendations on post-event learning that are based on documented experiments. Below are Sutton’s recommendations to maximize learning after each event:
- After event reviews — whether focused on failure alone or both successes and failures — spark learning. Sure, you already knew that — but it amazes me how many companies don’t have time to stop and think about what they learned, but seem to have the time to keep making the same mistakes over and over and over again.
- After people succeed at something, it is especially important to have them focus on what things went wrong. They learn more than if they just focus on success (so, don’t just gloat and congratulate yourself about what you did right; focus on what could go even better next time).
- When failure happens, the most important thing is to have an after event review to provoke sufficiently deep thinking — whether you talk about successes or failures is less important.