In Growth & Profit

Some of my associates and I were having a discussion on the value of learning experiences.  The question was asked, “Do we learn more from our failures than we learn from our successes?”  It certainly got me to thinking and reading on the topic.  What I found was that there are strongly held beliefs on both sides of the question.

From a scientific standpoint, research conducted at MIT in 2009 shosuccess or failurewed that the brain may process information more effectively after a success than after a failure.  The study was performed on monkeys, which have brains that function very much like ours.

 What the scientist’s think is important about the study is that to date there has been very little understanding about how environmental feedback guides our learning.  This is critical because we know that we learn from the consequences of our actions.  Learning more from success than failure might be the explanation for why we sometimes seem to repeat our mistakes. 

This research seems to contradict the results of previous studies suggesting that we, in fact, do learn from our mistakes.  Earl K. Miller, one of the MIT researchers, argued that the earlier assumption is not necessarily true, since what we learn depends on the type of the mistake we make.  Miller said, “There’s lots of different types of learning, and when you say learning from mistakes, the question is what is the nature of the mistake?” 

Many unanswered questions still remain after the study, but at the very least, the MIT research challenges the old notion that we learn from our mistakes.  And maybe that’s why some of us tend to repeat our mistakes over and over again.

In my next post, I’m going to examine the argument from the side of those that believe it is learning from failure that leads to eventual success.

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