Everything You Know about Business Is Right: Is Failure More Powerful Than Success?

Article excerpt

Let's toss a coin. Tails, you lose pounds 100. Heads, you win pounds 180. Would you take the bet? Most people wouldn't, psychologists have found. Irrational it may be, but only professional gamblers and particularly cold-blooded financiers make these decisions on the basis of probability and expected value alone. The rest of us make them emotionally, and the fact is that for most people the pain of losing pounds 100 counts for more than the pleasure of winning pounds 180.

The malign consequences of this psychological asymmetry are not difficult to spot. If we spend too long in rotten jobs, poor relationships and unfulfilling lives, it's not because we don't believe in the possibility of better. We get stuck because, although we do believe in the possibility of better, it is psychologically outweighed by the risk of worse if we attempt the change.

It's the same in organisations, fear of failure is more powerful than the prospect of success. Promising projects take forever to get started while we obsessively plan every last detail. Failing projects are kept alive long after they should have been put out of their misery.

'Become more comfortable with the idea of failure!' we exhort ourselves (or others), but this is a doomed idea. We can no more make an intellectual decision to feel differently than we can solve a quadratic equation with our emotional intelligence. …


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