Article | Management Science | November 2013

Learning from My Successes and from Others' Failures: Evidence from Minimally Invasive Cardiac Surgery

by D. KC, B. Staats and F. Gino


Learning from past experience is central to an organization's adaptation and survival. A key dimension of prior experience is whether an outcome was successful or unsuccessful. While empirical studies have investigated the effects of success and failure in organizational learning, to date the phenomenon has received little attention at the individual level. Drawing on attribution theory in psychology, we investigate how individuals learn from their own past experiences with both failure and success and from the experiences of others. For our empirical analyses, we use ten years of data from 71 cardiothoracic surgeons who completed over 6,500 procedures using a new technology for cardiac surgery. We find that individuals learn more from their own successes than from their own failures but learn more from the failures of others than from others' successes. We also find that individuals' prior successes and others' failures can help individuals overcome their inability to learn from their own failures. Together, these findings offer both theoretical and practical insights into how individuals learn directly from their prior experience and indirectly from the experiences of others.

Keywords: failure; healthcare; health care; learning; quality; knowledge work; attribution theory; Quality; Success; Medical Specialties; Health Care and Treatment; Failure; Learning; Health Industry;


KC, D., B. Staats, and F. Gino. "Learning from My Successes and from Others' Failures: Evidence from Minimally Invasive Cardiac Surgery." Management Science 59, no. 11 (November 2013): 2435–2449.