Opportunity, motivation and ability to learn from failures and errors: Review, synthesis and ways to move forward

Dahlin, Kristina, Chuang, You-Ta and Roulet, Thomas Opportunity, motivation and ability to learn from failures and errors: Review, synthesis and ways to move forward. The Academy of Management Annals, 11 (2). (Accepted)

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While organizations and individuals tend to focus on learning from success, research has shown that failure can yield crucial insights in various contexts that range from small mistakes and errors, product recalls, accidents, and medical errors, to large-scale disasters. This review of the literature identifies three mechanisms—opportunity, motivation, and ability—through which individuals, groups and organizations learn from failure, and it bridges the gaps between different levels of analysis. Opportunity to learn from failure mostly takes the shape of more information about errors and failures that are generated by one’s own and others’ prior failures or near-failures. Motivation to learn from failure is hindered by punitive leaders and organizations. Finally, ability to learn from failure partly relies on inherent attitudes and characteristics; but can be further developed through thoughtful analysis and transfers of successful routines. Our review leads us to distinguish between erroneous versus correct processes and adverse versus successful outcomes to better understand the full gamut of events that are faced by organizations. We identify the existence of noisy learning environment, where spurious successes (when erroneous processes still lead to successful outcomes) and spurious failures (when correct processes are combined with adverse outcomes) lower the opportunity to learn. Considering noisy learning situations is helpful when understanding the differences between slow- and fast-learning environments. We conclude our review by identifying a number of unexplored areas we hope scholars will address to better our understanding of failure learning.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: strategy & innovation, entrepreneurship, international business
Subject(s): Strategy; Entrepreneurship & Global business
Date Deposited: 23 Oct 2017 08:26
Last Modified: 16 Jan 2018 15:24
Funders: N/A
URI: http://eureka.sbs.ox.ac.uk/id/eprint/6601

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