Thoughts & Observations

The Stickiness of Failure

Jason Womack just got me thinking about something: success or failure…where do you learn the most?

I definitely learn from both, but I find failure a lot more sticky.

Not sticky in the sense that I get myself into sticky situations, but sticky in the sense that it stays with me. The next time I need to make a decision, the stickiness of a failure shows itself in a visceral response. I can feel what the right direction is without necessarily having to think about it.

I also find much more clarity in failure then I do in success.

Sometimes what led to success can feel like a slightly fuzzy mystery: I know I got here, but I’m not quite sure how.

How a failure happened, however? That is always brutally clear to me.

A lot of this probably stems from the fact that we tend to debrief after something has gone wrong, and not so much after something has gone right.

And while it is probably a good thing that I can be honest with myself about my shortcomings and failings, it would probably be good to get in the habit of doing post mortems of the successful stuff too.

Chip and Dan Heath talk about this in a way in Switch. Sometimes problems aren’t solved by examining the problem itself, but by examining the bright spots, the points of success. I think we are all programmed to focus more on what’s wrong then on what’s right.

Maybe that’s what’s wrong with us.

One thought on “The Stickiness of Failure

  1. Wow! I totally agree. I can recall in an instant everything I did wrong or wished was better in a project or in a decision I made, but I rarely stop to think about all the things that happened smoothly or were right. Maybe we should all spend more time thinking about what led us to the successes and not beat ourselves up over and over again about our shortcomings. (Okay – so this is really advice to myself, but you get the idea.)

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