Is Failure A Good Predictor Of Success?

It depends

Early failures in sky-diving are limiting. Probably true for lion-tamers too, but for many things in life, it continues to be true that mistakes are your friends.

Maybe not the mistakes themselves, but attitudes to them.

A recent study from the  Association for Psychological Science addresses how parents influence their child’s growth -intelligence mindset. The question is a familiar one. How can parents best support their child’s education?


Children more easily see their parents’ “failure mindset” than they do their parents’ “intelligence mindset.” What do parents pay attention to?

“Overall, parents who see failure as debilitating focus on their children’s performance and ability rather than on their children’s learning, and their children, in turn, tend to believe that intelligence is fixed rather than malleable.”

Not much growth potential when you are coming from a fixed point. Learning expands the child. Performance and ability measurement, not so much.

Applies to everyone

Children are easily the most obvious of the crowd who are learning. The same rules apply to employees and most importantly to yourself. If the only satisfaction is found in success, the field of application must be quite narrow. Success in life or any other diverse and unpredictable field is less certain. People must learn to deal with that uncertainty in productive ways.

Learning how to lose

Lyman MacInnis, an acquaintance from my accounting days, proposed this thought the same day I saw the article above.

The most important thing young people learn from playing sports is not how to win, it’s how to lose.

Learning how to lose includes learning how to process and use new information that only appears when something surprising happens. Like when you fail.

The key thought is that you don’t learn much when you are right.

The value of losing

There are no straight line tracks to the top. As I mentioned yesterday, part of success is exposing yourself to situations where success may lie. That same field of play includes failure as a possibility. (Experience teaches that the failure space is likely the larger part of the field.) If you refuse to play because of the failure possibility, you exclude the success option too.

When we learn that mistakes are our friends, we come to accept them and even welcome them. A quick failure is often a helpful and low-cost step. Any salesperson will tell you that a quick no beats a slow yes.

An approach to success/failure balance

The team motto for a baseball team of 9-year-olds.

If you think you can, You might.

If you think you can’t, You’re right.

Why experience is worth something

Good decisions are the result of experience; experience is the result of bad decisions.

If you want to grow and expand your life, you must develop a method to process mistakes and failures. If you want others to grow, less emphasis on achievement and more emphasis on the idea mistakes help you, will make everyone’s world better.

Don Shaughnessy arranges life insurance for people who understand the value of a life insured estate. He can be reached at The Protectors Group, a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency in Peterborough, Ontario.  In previous careers, he has been a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business.

Please be in touch if I can help you.  866-285-7772

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