I Succeed Because I Fail

Failure and success“Hey, you’re really good at this!” When you speak these words, you may well be increasing the likelihood that the person you wish to motivate will stop making progress.

Who woulda’ thought?

It’s been proven time and time again that positive reinforcement promotes the best long-term improvements in productivity. So how can this kind of positive reinforcement actually stymie progress?

It turns out that success has its roots in courage – the courage to risk failure. A recent study, led by Michigan State University’s Jason Moser, and soon to be published in Psychological Science, proves this point. In short, in the milliseconds after a mistake is made, the brain will respond with one of two options: maintain the status quo (safety), or try again (risk).

Those who were told that they were “good at this” learned to enjoy the stimulus of being correct and making fewer mistakes. Fewer mistakes came as the result of remaining at the same level of challenge. Others who were urged on with comments like, “Hey that’s great…keep trying!” made significantly more progress, in spite of their errors.

The difference is found in the form of the reinforcement. Encouragement that focuses on good performance, centers the mind of the recipient on continuing to do a good job. This means making fewer mistakes. And making fewer mistakes comes from repeating what has already been learned.

Those who progressed were given positive reinforcement to “keep trying.” They were encouraged to try new things, to learn and grow. Errors were ignored.

My application for this concept in the workplace fits well into the important directive to empower employees. No one wants errors, but this is how people advance. If you want your staff to learn and grow, you must give them projects that are challenging enough that they may well err.

And it’s your responsibility to encourage them. Downplay errors; encourage persistence.

It’s interesting, isn’t it? When empowered employees are given the courage to fail, they succeed.

Here are 8 ways to apply this new learning:

  1. Empower your employees; give them challenging responsibilities and let them go
  2. Don’t worry about their methods. Focus solely on the results you expect. (This is hard to for many managers to learn and employ. It is, however, imperative)
  3. Recognize successes. Downplay mistakes
  4. Remain silent and have the employee assess the results of his/her own efforts
  5. Ask what they might have done differently
  6. Provide your input, emphasizing strongly their efforts and things that they did well
  7. If they failed, help them to come to their own conclusions about what they might have done differently
  8. When possible, encourage them to devise their own plan for resolving the problem or challenge

It is your job to engage and “grow” your employees. The best way for you to do this is to encourage them to try.


You’ll be amazed at how failure leads to your success.

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