They say knowledge is power but sometimes it’s exactly the opposite.
Recently I was at my six year old’s soccer game. I watched as he gave up a goal, and later, ran around chasing the ball, fell down, got back up, laughing and joking with his buddies, running to get back into the next play.
After the game, I looked carefully for a sign that he was dejected, or depressed by having given up a few goals or falling down while chasing the ball, but there was no sign of him having had anything other than a good time.
Initially, this observation was somewhat baffling since in the adult world when we ‘fail’ we often have a negative response to the ‘failure’. But in thinking about it further we realize that this is a learned phenomenon, one that we are not born with. In nature, when a deer is attacked by a lion but gets away, when getting up, it shakes itself off thoroughly, and moves on, leaving the experience entirely behind. It takes with it nothing–it retains no meaning about the experience.
Meaning Attached to ‘Failure’ is a Learned Phenomenon
In calling out this distinction between how nature and children respond to ‘failure’ compared to how adults often do, we recognize that in this specific instance, being a human with a higher level of knowledge actually leaves the human worse off. Put another way, in obtaining the knowledge that ‘failure’ has meaning, the knowledge itself is an impediment, both in the aftermath of ‘failure’, and in never attempting new things because of what the supposed outcome might mean. The Knowledge itself is the robber of our power.
So what does this all mean?
If you knew with perfect clarity that attaching meaning to failure is learned, what would change in your life?
- About the Author
Nathan Safran is a former Analyst at Forrester Research where he covered the Digital Home. While at Forrester, Nathan authored research studies on trends, attitudes and behaviors of consumers toward technology adoption and use.
Nathan has been quoted as a subject matter expert in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Fortune magazine. Currently, Nathan heads the Research Department at Conductor, Inc an SEO Technology Platform firm.
Nathan writes at exceljockey.com about the intersection of Business, Technology and Psychology. See the About page for more info. Follow Nathan on Twitter: @Nathan_Safran