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Make Sure to Learn from Your…. Successes

“Learn from your mistakes.” 

How frequently do we hear that – or something similar? Failure is touted as one of the most powerful teachers we’ll ever meet. It’s been elevated in some cases to a magical status that can produce outcomes of legendary proportions. (Think 3M and the less- sticky glue that ultimately birthed adhesive notes.)

As a result, over the course of our lives, most of us have become very adept at recognizing our mistakes and missteps. We spend considerable time reflecting on what went wrong and our role in it. (Some of us have raised this to an art form – or obsession.) And most people can outline exactly what they won’t ever do again to avoid problems from the past. We indeed do learn from our mistakes.

But, can we say the same about our successes? When something goes well, do we invest the same evaluative energy? When we reach (or beat) our goals, do we conduct a robust ‘after action review’ to get to the bottom of what went right?

No! And it’s an enormous missed opportunity. Excellence is based not just upon fixing mistakes but also on leveraging what’s going well toward even greater results.

The work of Gallup, Zenger-Folkman, and others has changed how we think about strengths. Today we know that focusing on strengths and dedicating time and attention to growing those can have a huge impact on performance (versus working like a dog to overcome weaknesses). A similar movement needs to take hold in the failure/success arena!

Why do we fail to embrace success as a teacher? Why do we miss the opportunity to squeeze learning out of those situations that turn out just like (or even better than) we planned?

I’ll speak for myself. I’m generally ‘on to the next’ by the time the results of previous efforts become evident. At that point, there’s no time to wallow in my success. If I’d screwed up, failure would grab me by the throat and force attention; but success just slips quietly into the night.

What if we could develop as much discipline wringing learning out what’s worked as we do out of what hasn’t? We can! And I believe it can be as productive as – and even more energizing and fun than – focusing on failure. The next time something goes well, consider the following questions:

1)  Why exactly am I so pleased with the results? Being clear about how we define success and what it involves is the first step toward being able to create more of it.

2)  What specific steps did I/we take to contribute to the success? When we recognize what we did to help generate the positive results, we can replicate the productive steps and even teach others.

3)  Who else helped to make this success possible? Success is rarely the product of a one-man show. Recognizing who’s helped provides an opportunity to express appreciation – and draw consciously on those resources again in the future.

4)  What other conditions conspired to produce this success? Some conditions are out of our control; still, it’s helpful to have them on the radar screen. But other conditions may be more malleable and may be factors to leverage for future success.

These questions can help you – and others – mine your success for the rich lessons that it can teach. Who knows? Maybe it’s time to graduate from the ‘school of hard knocks’ to a kinder, gentler ‘textbook of triumph.’

This article was originally posted by Tanmay Vora in celebration of the Launch of Help Them Grow or Watch them Go.  Please visit his site where you’ll find a variety of rich resources.

7 comments on “Make Sure to Learn from Your…. Successes

  1. Joe Bittick on

    Great article. Success comes from recognized and adjusted failures. Most do not want to recognize failures because it makes them feel lesser than they believe they are and others don’t want to evaluate and adjust failure because they feel failure is the wrong direction. Success generally comes from the failure’s before. Knowledge is not new we actually have it recorded in our mental. When we begin to think of something and want to make it successful think of it as old idea that has failed at sometime in the past and find out why it has failed, then share each failed attempt with past failure to bring it to a shared success with previous failures. When we share we are not alone and don’t carry the heavy weight of failure without help.

  2. Trina Holt on

    Thank you for this reminder! It’s all too true that we spend a disproportionate amount of time focussing on fixing the broken stuff (the negativity bias) but it’s such a drag sometimes! I find it refreshing to “get permission” to concentrate, celebrate, rejuvenate in the stuff that’s working well. In my life, I find that other people tend to be the greatest reminders of all that I do well. My husband, mom, sister are my greatest cheerleaders. Maybe we can all take a cue from our loved ones about what’s working and that it’s okay to spend some time thinking about it because that’s self-love and other-love and it’s meaningful stuff! Have a great holiday Julie 🙂

    • Julie Giulioni on

      So great to hear from you Trina. Thanks for these thoughts. You are fortunate to be surrounded by such support… and what a great idea to use the mirror of others to reflect a little love our way. Wishing you a lovely holiday season as well!

  3. Duncan Brodie on

    Really enjoyed this piece. I agree totally that it is vital to focus on strengths and also to reflect on things that have gone well.

    Perhaps it is the way that people have their performance reviewed at work that keeps the focus on the negatives. I am sure we have all encountered the manager who spends 98% of the time allocated for a review meeting on the 2% that did not go so well.

    • Julie Giulioni on

      You are so right, Duncan. But I have to admit that I don’t need anyone else to do it to me… I do it to myself… and suspect that I’m not alone. A presentation can go 98% perfectly. But what do I fret over? The couple of words that didn’t slide out perfectly. Or there’s the class where 24 people rate it a 5 and one person rates it a 3. That one person can monopolize my thoughts for some time. I’d argue that we all need to be a bit kinder to ourselves… and we might naturally begin to extend the same to others.


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