Learn from what’s worked

One of the benefits of working with talented people you respect is engaging in reasonable debates over complex questions. That happened this week with a group of our managers discussing a potential opportunity for us at Collegewise. There were plenty of smart, plausible arguments on both sides, one of which was that when we tried something not unlike this before, it didn’t go as well as we’d hoped.

But one of our directors, Tara, reminded us: “Stop getting hung up on what didn’t work with your ex. You’ll never be able to move on.”

What great advice.

Sure, you can and probably should try to learn from your failures or mistakes. But those lessons are usually limited to what not to do. The takeaway is inaction, not action. The lessons just prevent you from making the exact same mistake in the exact same situation again. But success, on the other hand, teaches you what to do. You can repeat those actions and the ensuing success. Learning what to do is a lot more useful than learning what not to do.

You can’t become a great quarterback just by learning 100 plays that didn’t work. You won’t make a great dinner just by learning cooking mistakes that ruin meals. And you can’t increase your investment returns simply by avoiding risky investments. Preventing failures is good, but achieving success is even better.

And for that, you’ve got to learn from what’s worked.