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Why Leaders Don’t Learn from Success

Attribution errors, overconfidence, incentives, and a lack of curiosity hamper out ability to learn from success.

…The first is the inclination to make what psychologists call fundamental attribution errors. When we succeed, we’re likely to conclude that our talents and our current model or strategy are the reasons. We also give short shrift to the part that environmental factors and random events may have played.

The second impediment is overconfidence bias: Success increases our self-assurance. Faith in ourselves is a good thing, of course, but too much of it can make us believe we don’t need to change anything.

The third impediment is the failure-to-ask-why syndrome—the tendency not to investigate the causes of good performance systematically. When executives and their teams suffer from this syndrome, they don’t ask the tough questions that would help them expand their knowledge or alter their assumptions about how the world works.

The article touches on five ways you can learn from success. In my mind there are better, more practical, things you can do to ensure you’re learning from success such as, acknowledging that outcomes are usually based on some combination of skill and luck. When estimating your skill in that outcome it’s best to incorporate a wide margin of safety. Don’t become the man with a hammer and try to take the same success and apply it, without context, across the organization. And don’t become insulated from reality — surround yourself with people who are not afraid to speak their mind. Of course, there are reasons all of these things are hard to do, that’s why so few people do them.

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