Article | Harvard Business Review | April 2011

Why Leaders Don't Learn from Success

by Francesca Gino and Gary P. Pisano

Abstract

We argue that for a variety of psychological reasons, it is often much harder for leaders and organizations to learn from success than to learn from failure. Success creates three kinds of traps that often impede deep learning. The first is attribution error or the tendency to see superior performance as rooted in one's actions rather than other factors (such as luck). The second is that success feeds overconfidence bias, which can then blind leaders to potential future problems and opportunities for innovation. The third is a tendency to fail to probe the root causes of success. Whereas post-mortems after failure are becoming a norm in many organizations, such soul searching rarely occurs after success. This causes leaders and their organizations to miss opportunities to develop deep causal knowledge that can lead to greater long-term improvements. We suggest a number of concrete actions leaders can take to help themselves and their organizations avoid the success-breeds-failure trap.

Keywords: Learning; Innovation and Management; Leadership; Failure; Success; Performance Evaluation; Prejudice and Bias;

Citation:

Gino, Francesca, and Gary P. Pisano. "Why Leaders Don't Learn from Success." Harvard Business Review 89, no. 4 (April 2011): 68–74.