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Why organizations don't learn (I): Bias towards Success

Leaders across organizations may say that learning comes from failure, but their actions show a preoccupation with success. This impedes learning by raising the following four challenges:


Challenge #1: Fear of failure

Failures often trigger negative emotions such as hurt, anger, shame and even depression. As a result, some people try best not to look bad and dislike when their mistakes are pointed out. Such type of behavior becomes common in companies whose leaders have often unconsciously, institutionalized a fear of failure. Such organizations continue doing what they are good at and do not develop new digital capabilities


Solution #1: Destigmatize failure

Leaders must facilitate a safe environment to fail or make mistakes and develop an outlook where failures are considered to be learning opportunities to grow and develop.


Challenge #2: Fixed Mindset

People with fixed mindsets believe that skills are born; either you have them or don’t have them. They are very focused on the outcome or results of a task or projects rather than the process itself. This limits their ability to learn as they are worried too much about meeting the performance targets.


Solution #2: Cultivate a growth mindset

People with growth mindsets believe that skills are built; you can certainly develop them. They are focused on the process more than the outcome. When a growth mindset is cultivated, people become more aware of opportunities for self-improvement, more willing to accept challenges, and more likely to persevere through obstacles.


Challenge #3: Over-reliance on past performance

While making hiring and promotion decisions, leaders often put more emphasis on performance and not enough on potential to learn.


Solution #3: Focus on Potential

There are four elements that make up potential: curiosity, insight, engagement, and determination. Considering potential along with performance, while hiring and promotion decisions, will help counter manager’s incorrect first impressions, along with their natural inclination to hire and promote people like themselves.


Challenge #4: Attribution bias

People generally have a tendency to ascribe their success to hard work, brilliance and skill; however, they blame their failures on bad luck. Unless people realize that failures resulted from their own actions, they do not learn from their mistakes



Solution #4: Use data-driven approach to analyze success or failure

It is very important to use a data-driven approach to analyze success or failures, based on facts or figures as data can show us things in a neutral way, which can stimulate discussion and challenge assumptions arising from personal impressions.


Do you face similar challenges in your organizations? What solutions would you take to overcome them?


This article is a summary of a read by Harvard Business School entitled- Why organizations don’t learn by Francesca Gino and Bradley Staats.

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