Tuesday, October 13 , 2015, 12:08 pm | Fair 82º

Paul Burri: Do You Learn from Successes or Learn from Failures?

By Paul Burri, Noozhawk Columnist | @BronxPaul |

Several years ago, I worked at a company where we would have regular management meetings to discuss company policy, company procedures, and often, new ways that we could improve company performance. Someone suggested that we schedule a regular portion of each meeting for exchanging and discussing individual experiences that could benefit others as part of a management learning process. One individual was appointed to search out and schedule these presentations.

They proved to be somewhat helpful as we learned new ideas and procedures that had worked for other people within the company that we could use in our various departments.

One day I was approached by the person who was scheduling these sessions asking that I be the next presenter. When I agreed, he asked me to send him an outline of what I was going to say. I sent him a short outline describing an incident that had not gone well; I guess you could call it a failure, but it was one from which I had learned a lot.

A client had come to me asking how to improve his business and what changes he needed to make. When I suggested changes to him, he was unwilling to make any changes — even though he wanted and expected things to change. I had learned what not to do in situations like that. My thought was that my company associates could also learn from my experience.

My associate almost immediately contacted me to ask whether I had a “positive” experience to relate. In his words, “We don’t want to tell about negative experiences. We only want positive ones.”

When I replied that we learn more from negative experiences than from positive (and expected) experiences, he was adamant about not wanting me to relate anything negative. I told him to find someone else to do the next presentation and that I would “think about it.”

Of course, I was never asked again by this person to share any of my experiences.

Eventually the program died. I have my own ideas about why that happened.

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer, guerrilla marketer and iconoclast. He is available to local organizations for speaking engagements and to local businesses for business consulting and/or mentoring. The opinions and comments in this column are his alone and do not reflect the opinions or policies of any outside organization. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for previous Paul Burri columns. Follow Paul Burri on Twitter: @BronxPaul.

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» on 12.24.12 @ 06:25 PM

I believe you are right.

The fallacy that you learn by successes is called the “confirmation bias”.  You focus on all the things you did “right”, and make the assumption they were contributing factors to the success.  Whereas, somebody might have employed all the same strategies - and failed.  We have trouble conceding any small measure of credit to randomness - or pay much regard to the losers.

A thousand bits of “corroborating evidence” can be undone by one single contrary incident.

» on 01.14.13 @ 08:53 AM

Paul I believe you would be happy to know I feel just like you do regarding the learning process. It is a known fact that a guided missile generally reaches its target by evaluating negative information . Nothing is generally learned from evaluating positive information.

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