It’s a common misconception that people learn more from failure than success. But in fact, just the opposite is true.
Here’s Basecamp co-founder Jason Fried’s thoughts on the Signal v. Noise blog:
I don’t understand the cultural fascination with failure being the source of great lessons to be learned. What did you learn? You learned what didn’t work. Now you won’t make the same mistake twice, but you’re just as likely to make a different mistake next time. You might know what won’t work, but you still don’t know what will work. That’s not much of a lesson.
Instead, put most of your energy into studying your successes. What have you done right? What worked? Why did it work? How you can repeat it? Instead of making something worse a little better, how about making something good a little better? Don’t spend so much time looking down. Look up more.
(If you haven’t read REWORK, stop what you’re doing and buy it. It’s great.)
This is pretty profound. At first glance, it seems to go against the common startup moniker “fail fast.”
Is it still okay to fail?
Of course it is.
The idea is simple. Success guides you in the right direction while failures only show you the wrong way. Imagine a GPS that only tells you where not to go. It wouldn’t be very effective.
Here’s a practical anecdote from our own business.
We’re making some changes to our blog. You’ll notice the content has evolved over the last year. Instead of publishing the same tips you can find on any other email blog, we’re focusing on punchy, actionable posts with lots of examples. When we sit down to write a post, the goal is to GTTFP (get to the f’ing point!).
According to the comments, social shares and analytics, people dig the new approach. So we are going to head that direction and see if we can double down on that success. It’s not profound but it makes sense. Do more of what people like.
The question we have for our readers is this: What’s one success that you’ve learned from?
This can be a contentious topic, we’re curious to hear your thoughts.
I disagree with this entire article. It just sounds like someone annoyed at a concept they don’t fully understand.
You can’t learn from success because people don’t always have an accurate perception of what success really is. Furthermore – do what people like? That’s ridiculous because PEOPLE don’t even always know what they actually like. Even further, what people like changes.
We need failure to learn AND define success. How do you know the highest point from which you can jump before you break a leg? You start at the smallest step, jump a little higher each time until you’ve found the limit you can go. That’s what an achiever does.
Per your article, success = jumping off a step…any step. Probably the smallest step because hey! You’re succeeding! But you’ll never know your limitations without failure.
Failure has been culturally misconstrued. Why the hell is it not okay to fail at something? Or rather, to make a mistake and generate an unexpected result? One of the only true negative failures is the lack of action due to fear of failure. If you fear failure rather than embracing its lesson, you have actually failed.
And back to this nonsense about learning from success? That’s the equivalent of learning from tunnel vision. Failure is THE identifier as to what works and what doesn’t. Once again, you say, “Do what people like!” Congrats! You’re isolating your success to one population rather than trying to expand it. And again, what people like changes over time as a population and as individuals.
You wrote this a long time ago, so I hope you’ve since changed your attitude. There’s a psychological concept called failure avoidance. People motivated by failure avoidance (see above article) are “lesser achievers” than those motivated by the struggle, the work, the ability to overcome failure.
I cannot emphasize the extent to which I think this whole article is both logically and philosophically wrong. However, as a failure, it has perhaps allowed you or whoever reads it to grow assuming I’ve been remotely convincing in spite of my smugness.
I’ll leave you with this…sometimes I fail or mess up on purpose with small things…in some subconscious effort to validate whether what I know to be true still holds true…and I revel in it…