Failing makes some people smarter

Failing makes some people smarter

An old joke goes like this: most people say they want to go to heaven, but no one wants to die to get there.
In the same way, we now know that failure is necessary to success, but no one wants to experience the trauma of failure.  Just like the pain of exercise that leads to physical fitness, we have to fail before we can truly succeed.  We have heard this so often lately.  Tina Seelig at Stanford says that failure is Silicon Valley’s secret sauce.  We are finally starting to believe that failure makes us more successful in the long run.
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Unfortunately, learning from failure is not automatic.  Some people don’t learn anything.  Barriers can get in the way of learning, and people can incorrectly remember the event.  If you are intersted in the research on this topic, leave a comment and I will post it.

One particular barrier is perception.

The process of understanding events is called sensemaking.  People experience something, and they mull it over, and arrive at an explanation.  The interpretation might be wrong.  Because we never see the whole picture, our interpretations will most likely be incomplete at best.  But right or wrong, the interpretation becomes the meaning for that person.  And that incorrect interpretation is a barrier to learning.

In the sensemaking process, a major cause of misunderstanding is fundamental attribution error.  In particular, people often confuse internal and external causes.

For example, when one of my students receives a high grade on a test, it is due to a combination of hard work, dedication, and superior intelligence.  When a student fails a test, the failure is caused by my evil plot to ruin young lives.  (By the way, I arbitrarily choose which lives to destroy).


Don’t try to fail.  But when you do, don’t lament the economy, the weather, or other people’s stupid decisions.  Consider instead what YOU could have done differently.

Published by Brock Stout, PhD

Brock has helped many people to be extremely successful. He has lived in various countries and has enjoyed several careers, but is now a writer and a coach. He sustained mild lead poisoning as a child, resulting in neurological damage. The result was a life of learning disabilities, always struggling to keep up. But he completed two degrees from competitive universities, then advised Wall Street executives in Asia for 15 years. He later earned a PhD and worked as a university professor for six years. He has started three profitable companies in between. So he particularly wants to help those with special learning challenges. Because so many of us now have these special challenges, they are no longer special. But they are challenges. He wants you to TEACH YOURSELF how to be successful.

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