Developing and Learning From an Acceptance of Failure

April 4, 2012 Katharina Lochner

Why it is Important to Fail

In one of our posts, we cited Dominic Randolph, headmaster of the prestigious Riverdale Country School, who considers it necessary that kids have to learn how to fail if they want to learn how to succeed. This seems to apply not only to kids. But how do we learn to fail?

Dean A.Shepherd from Indiana UniversityHolger Patzelt from Technische Universität Munich, and Marcus Wolfe from Boise State University were interested in how people recover from failure and learn from it. They assessed two different attitudes: loss orientation and restoration orientation. The former refers to thinking about the loss and trying to process it, the latter to distracting oneself from the loss. They found that restoration orientation helps recover from the failure because it reduces negative emotions, but loss orientation is the one that allows for more learning from the failure. However, loss orientation reverses its beneficial effect after a while, when people started ruminating and their level of negative emotions becomes higher and higher. The study authors come to the conclusion that the best way of dealing with failure is oscillating between the two orientations: understand why something has gone wrong, but when emotions escalate, find a way of distracting yourself from them.

In a video, Dean Shepherd explains how he came to study dealing with failure and why his studies are important for entrepreneurship.

The original study was published in The Academy of Management Journal, and there is a summary of it on the BPS Occupational Digest Blog.

Dan Shepherd also published a book on the topic: “From Lemons to Lemonade”. In it, he elaborates his strategies of dealing with failure.

The study shows once more that there is no “either – or”, that the extremes are usually not beneficial in the long term. It is rather a mixture of them. We all fail every once in a while. Sometimes it is a big failure, sometimes a small one. But there is always a way of making the best out of it, and again, it is all in the mix.

About the Author

Katharina Lochner

Dr Katharina Lochner is the former research director for the cut-e Group which was acquired by Aon in 2017. Katharina is now a researcher and lecturer at the University of Applied Sciences Europe in Iserlohn, Germany. In her role at cut-e, she applied the research in organizational and work psychology to real-world assessment practice. She has a strong expertise in the construction and evaluation of online psychometric tools.

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