Do You Learn More From Your Successes Than From Your Failures? (Please Opine)

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When new employees join at Upside Learning, I tell them – “Making mistakes is ok because you learn from them and that’s the real value of a mistake as it gets you ready for success. So go ahead, work with a free mind, give your best, and everything else would be fine”. Note that it’s not a license to make mistakes it is the freedom to try your best and be ok when you make mistakes. I also tell them “while committing mistakes is ok, repeating them is not, as then the mistake is really costly – to them and to the company, as we did not get anything (hoping for some learning there) out of it”

To me experience is the best teacher and you learn immensely from your failures/mistakes. Last week I read this article on Science Daily that challenges this popular perception. It suggests we learn more from successes than failures and states:

In the July 30 issue of the journal Neuron, Earl K. Miller, the Picower Professor of Neuroscience, and MIT colleagues Mark Histed and Anitha Pasupathy have created for the first time a unique snapshot of the learning process that shows how single cells change their responses in real time as a result of information about what is the right action and what is the wrong one.

“We have shown that brain cells keep track of whether recent behaviors were successful or not,” Miller said. Furthermore, when a behavior was successful, cells became more finely tuned to what the animal was learning. After a failure, there was little or no change in the brain — nor was there any improvement in behavior.

The study sheds light on the neural mechanisms linking environmental feedback to neural plasticity — the brain’s ability to change in response to experience. It has implications for understanding how we learn, and understanding and treating learning disorders.

Somehow that does not sound quite right to me. I am not saying you don’t learn from your successes, I just think you learn MORE from your failures. Not automatically though! The problem I see with this notion of learning-from-successes is that you could have hit upon the right path by chance. While achieve success, you don’t really get to know of wrong paths (and there could be many of them) so there is every possibility you miss the right path when you try the same thing next time. However, when you fail, you analyze & understand the reasons, and then choose the right path. And that sticks with you – resulting in learning.

I think I personally learn MORE from failures than from successes. How about you?

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