Wisdom wrung from failure

Dave Snowden reflects on how we learn from mistakes prompted by Jonah Lehrer’s piece in Wired.

It seems that how we process failure has a pretty significant impact on how (or whether) we learn from it. Dave’s summary:

You need to read the post itself but in summary the original evidence based on EEG evidence is that we need to monitor both the initial response to failure, but also the degree to which a secondary brain response pays attention to that error (aspects of my See-Attend-Act model)> I’d argue that the essence of a formalised and ritualised apprenticeship is to teach you to pay attention to error rather than dismiss it, and its no coincidence that the professions have never abandoned the apprentice model by the way.

There are ties across to Carol Dweck’s work on effort versus identity: children praised for their effort learn faster than those praised for their character. The latter get attached to success, linking it to self-esteem and then they start avoiding or hiding failure.

I’ve never had an EEG attached to me when working, but I sometimes recognise that I can have two kinds of reaction to things that go wrong in facilitation. It’s easy to interpret them as a mark of my failure, in which case I start wondering if I should change career. Usually, after the passage of time, I start to find these failures interesting and then some learning can happen.

I think in human systems we have to allow for both responses; acknowledging that our esteem does get bound up in our work, and also holding the space for reflection rather than merely dismissing, or over-reacting to, failure.

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