One thing I hear over and over again from people is that failure is the best teacher. But I keep wondering if that is true. Finally, I’ve found someone who’s with me. Scientists have found that your failure can even undermine your learning.
People may not learn from their own failure
To challenge the conventional wisdom, the researchers conducted five experiments. More than 1,600 participants were asked to answer a series of binary-choice questions.
In one experiment, one question is “How much money U.S. companies lose annually due to poor customer service?” The only two choices were "$60 billion" or "$90 billion."
Since there were only two choices, if the participant chose the wrong answer “$60 billion” in the first time, he should have chosen the right answer "$90 billion” next time. But it turns out that people remembered few of their answers and learnt little from their mistakes.
After doing more experiments, the researchers found that people learned less from personal failure than from personal success.
But this doesn’t mean you are totally fooled by those graduation speeches talking about learning from failure. You are just not likely to learn from your own failure. When it comes to learning from others, it’s a different story.
People can learn from others’ failure as much as from others’ success
In another experiment, the researchers asked them to observe other people’s failure and success. Guess what? They could learn from both.
In other words, you can learn from other people’s failure better than your personal failure. As the study author Ayelet Fishbach said, “it's really a matter of self-esteem…It just doesn't feel good to fail, so people tune out."
So, in order to better fulfill yourself, looking to your own failure may not be the best choice. You’d better learn from your successful experience and other people’s success as well as failure.