Learning from Success

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You’ve heard that you should analyze your failures rigorously. That’s good advice, but if you aren’t analyzing your successes as well you’re missing out on some big opportunities.

Success and failure teach different lessons

You can learn a lot from your failures, but you only learn what not to do. Success can teach you lessons about what you should do.

Not only that, successes can leave clues about opportunities you can exploit. Success can teach you which skills and markets and people to develop.

Better together

Professor Shmuel Ellis of Tel Aviv University studied how Israeli soldiers learned from After Event Reviews. Here’s one of his findings:

“The results show that performance of soldiers doing successive navigation exercises improved significantly when they were debriefed on their failures and successes after each training day, compared with others who reviewed their failed events only.”

After Event Reviews also go by the name After Action Reviews. They’re the tool of choice for learning from experience.

After Action Reviews are the tool of choice.

After Action Reviews are structured reviews of events that analyze what was planned, what occurred, and what lessons can be learned from it all. The key is the structure combined with a candid assessment.

After Action Reviews were developed by the military. More and more businesses are adapting them to their unique situations. They use the reviews to analyze two kinds of performance.

Analyzing operational performance

Some months or quarters or years are better than others. Figuring out why can help you do even better.

Most organizations should have a quarterly Operations Review. In his book, Business Execution for RESULTS, Stephen Lynch calls these “Rolling Reality Checks.” Analyze the success as well as the failures for the best future results.

When you analyze operational success, look for evidence of strengths you can build upon. Identify the things you should be doing more of.

Analyzing surprise success

When success surprises you it’s easy to pat yourself on the back and imagine that all that those good results happened because of what a swell and savvy businessperson you are. Resist that temptation. You won’t make any progress that way.

Luck happens to everyone. As Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen say in their book, Great by Choice:

“The critical question is not whether you’ll have luck, but what you do with the luck that you get.”

The first thing to do with that “lucky” success is dissect it to see if there’s opportunity inside. Perhaps your luck was a result of things you did. Now that you see the connection, should you do more of it?

Sometimes luck is the signal of an unrecognized opportunity. In the early days of computers, the main players were Univac and IBM. Univac had the superior computer. Both companies concentrated their efforts on selling to government agencies and scientific institutions.

So both were surprised when businesses started buying computers for the mundane task of accounting. Univac took the orders as a “lucky” form of additional revenue. IBM saw the same orders as a signal of a new market. They shifted sales, marketing, and technological resources to the business market.

Bottom Line

You’ll make more progress faster if you make After Action Reviews a regular part of you operating cadence and if you use the tool to analyze both successes and failures.

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