Learning Lab

Are your teams learning from one another’s successes or from their failures?

By Amy Brann

It is popular to think that people learn from how other people succeed, and that failure doesn’t really exist…only an opportunity to learn. This could be even more true than we previously realised. A quick way to improve your efficiency is to learn from other’s mistakes. Save yourself the time of having to go through the practical and emotional consequences yourself.

New work by researchers at the University of Bristol indicates that our peer’s failures stick with us, rather than their successes. The experiments involved volunteers playing a game with a computer controlled competitor. While they played the game fMRI scans showed how much activity there was in different areas of their brains.

In the game the players had to choose one from four boxes which paid out varying sums of money and to maximise winnings occasionally each of the boxes had to be sampled. When the volunteers saw their competitors get a bit win the fMRI didn’t register a big reaction. However, when the computer competitor got a low sum of money the brain of the volunteer responded like crazy in the inhibition areas. This shows us that there was a strong response to alert them to not doing what had just been done.

Interestingly one of the co-leaders of the study also observed that the player’s mirror neuron system was activated when the computer was making its move. But when the action that was being taken led to failure then the inhibitory areas immediately stopped the mirroring. A mirror neuron expert disputes that fMRI could show mirror neurons as distinguished from motor cortex neurons, but even if it’s just these…that’s still pretty impressive.

So becoming aware of what your brain is doing can be really useful to align your practical awareness to be picking up on similar things. If you find yourself in a situation where you see your colleague lose a big deal then allow yourself to observe fully. Perhaps create relationships where you could ‘officially’ learn from one another’s mistakes. Could one of you act as an internal Coach and question your colleague about what the components of the big deal were. This could benefit both of you in the long run.

It works for much simpler scenarios too. Communication skills are notoriously complex, but we can really easily improve our results with just some simple tweaks. Sometimes when we speak to someone our message doesn’t get across well, it may be that for a certain individual we come across to directly, and the individual has some personal challenges with not feeling valued. If them feeling like their opinion is important and that they are contributing to things means that your message can best be understood then that’s great information to have about a person. In future when communicating with that individual you would ensure you ask them what they think, how they’d go about it or whether they think you are on the right track.

Strategically being open about learning from one another’s challenges could be the best way to go. By everyone being on the same page there is less chance of a person feeling bad or embarrassed about mistakes. Ideally if everyone can get to a place where they know their errors will benefit others, and with a high level of self-awareness through coaching, themselves too – you’ll have a very productive environment. At Synaptic Potential we specialise in increasing effectiveness, efficiency and productivity.

Utilising team’s failures just got a lot more powerful!

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