Do You Learn More From Success or Failure?
The Good Lord has so created Man that everyone can make every conceivable mistake on his own. Don’t ever try to learn from other people’s mistakes. Learn what other people do right – A wise rabbi of the first century, Adventures of a Bystander, Peter F. Drucker
I had never given this question much thought until I read this passage in Drucker’s autobiography where he stated: “I suddenly realized that the right method, at least for me, was to look for the thing that worked and for the people who perform. I realized that I, at least, do not learn from mistakes. I have to learn from successes.”
After reading that, I started to think at length about this topic and it interested me greatly. I asked participants in my courses and people I knew whether they learned more from success or failure; well over 90 percent said failure. It is probably the most readily answered question and the least thought-about answer, for when you really ponder it, you realize that success is a far more valuable teacher than failure.
If I wanted to become a pro golfer, would you recommend I go out to the local municipal golf course and follow the weekend hackers, or hang around the PGA Tours?
The same logic applies to public policy questions. Society is rightly concerned about poverty, but discovering the root causes of poverty is the wrong approach. Poverty needs no explanation, since it is the natural condition of humans. What would we do once we discovered the root causes of poverty? Create more of it? What needs to be explained is wealth, not poverty. Indeed, wealth is the only known antidote to poverty.
Most people would agree with the statement that there are more wrong ways to do something than there are right ways. If that is true, then certainly it follows that learning the right way to do a particular thing is the best path to success. After all, incompetence is one thing that’s in an abundant, never-ending supply. If you had to study all of life’s failures, you would never have enough time to achieve success.
The lesson is vital and it is this: Success and failure are largely the result of habit. When we program ourselves to believe we learn more from failure than success, we begin to make excuses for our failures. We say things such as, “Yes, I really messed that up, but look at the education I got from my mistake.”
This is not Pollyanna in the sense of ignoring failure or giving up in the face of adversity. It is, rather, celebrating your many successes and downplaying your failures. Consider that the only part of the daily news barrage that celebrate success and achievement is the sports page.
The most important point I wish to share with you regarding success and failure, comes from, again, Peter Drucker: “Don’t solve problems; pursue opportunities.”
By focusing on solving problems, you feed your failures, starve your successes and achieve costly mediocrity. All you do is return to the status quo when you solve problems, you don’t advance.
All firms should spend the super majority of their time pursuing opportunities rather than solving problems. Whether it’s expanding into new markets, offering a value-added service or developing a new niche, pursuing opportunities is the critical factor in success.
One of the biggest failures a lot of firms still engage in daily is hourly billing. What have we learned from this 100-year-old practice? Not much, I assure you; we make the same errors over and over, and there is no education in the second kick of the mule. To overcome this failure, we must seek out the opportunities that lie within value pricing.
Napoleon Hill in Grow Rich! With Peace of Mind wrote this:
“The many failures who turned up in my survey of some years ago displayed a failure-quality which belongs to any age. Not only had these people failed, but they kept on living with their failure. They spoke of it in preference to other topics. They lived in the past tense, reliving the pain of what had been. Those who had succeeded, however, spoke in the future tense. Their eyes were not upon their past—which often contained a good share of mistakes—but ever upon the future, upon their great objectives. Where failure had been laid behind, failure stayed behind—and notably it stayed out of their conversation.”
During a visit to the former Soviet Union in 1992, a Russian economist told an American economist, “We know what doesn’t work; now we are trying to figure out what will work.”
If I wanted to organize a successful society, I wouldn’t study communist or socialists countries, but instead free market and democratic societies. Study success, because it leave clues.
Now, how would you answer the question do you learn more from success or failure? Think about it.