Why learning from failure is so hard: Because we can’t stand looking stupid

Smart people can't stand looking stupid

There’s one HBR article that I share but never hear back about. It’s Chris Argyris’ “Teaching Smart People How to Learn” (https://hbr.org/1991/05/teaching-smart-people-how-to-learn).

Maybe it’s the intimidating title that ticks off the interest to read.

Or maybe because it’s a painful read in itself.

Argyris, considered the father of organizational learning from the 1950s, features management consultants in this article.

“Nearly all the consultants I have studied have stellar academic records… their lives are primarily full of successes, so they have rarely experienced the embarrassment and sense of threat that comes with failure… People who rarely experience failure, however, end up not knowing how to deal with it effectively.”

“Behind this high aspiration for success is an equally high fear of failure and a propensity to feel shame and guilt when they do fail to meet their high standards… they also have never developed the tolerance for feelings of failure or the skills to deal with these feelings. This in turn has led them not only to fear failure but also to fear the fear of failure itself.”

Ouch, isn’t it.

The type of failure we learn from, is really embarrassing and painful. Now let’s go fail.