We Learn Best From Success not Failure
I think it is important to learn from our mistakes. And I think it is extremely important for organizations to create climates in which people are not punished for their mistakes. But I think the whole idea of learning from our mistakes is overrated. In fact, I think we can learn more from our successes than we do from our failures.
Why? Because we are more open to learning new things when we are positive and making mistakes seldom causes us to experience positive emotions. Failure usually makes us feel pretty down in the dumps. The negative emotions it causes may lead us to focus on covering up our mistake because we are embarrassed or afraid of negative consequences. A performance review that highlights our weaknesses rather than our strengths leaves us feeling inadequate or worried about our job security. Some people are motivated by failure, but for most of us our failures don’t energize us or motivate us to keep at it in order to figure out how to succeed. Positive emotions do that!
A good example of this comes from a study of people who were videotaped while they were bowling. Afterward half of the bowlers were shown videos of their spares and strikes while the other half watched videos of the frames when they failed to knock all of the pins down. When they bowled again the half who had watched videos of the frames where they had bowled spares and strikes improved significantly more than the other half. Watching their successes boosted their positive emotions, which led to further success.
When mistakes are made we should do our very best to learn from them and move on. But focusing on what is going wrong and always looking for errors is not the best way to help people learn and grow. Looking for what they are doing right and celebrating their success is what leads people to thrive.