We learn more from the mistakes of our competitors than their successes

We learn more from the mistakes of our competitors than their successes

Liverpool football fans are gob-smacked, no doubt, by the latest goings-on in the trans-Atlantic tussle for the club they love. In years to come, it will probably be a case study on MBA courses across the globe. But it will be an unusual one. That’s because most case studies show success. Indeed, the footballers themselves at Liverpool will be watching videos each week of their heroes, the “greats” and what they do well on the pitch. Yet, new research from the University of Bristol suggests that the way of footballers and businesses is wrong, plain wrong.

The researchers wanted to find out what happens in our brain when we learn from the action of competitors. It seems that when our competitors succeed, when they do well, our brains essentially ignore them. But when our competitors fail, when they make a mess of things, our brains go into overdrive. In other words, we appear to learn from the mistakes our competitors make, but not from their successes.

So, rather than reading case histories of how companies succeed, we ought to be looking at businesses that failed. Rather than Liverpool footballers looking at videos of more successful teams, they should be watching DVDs of clubs that did badly. And online, rather than looking at web businesses that do well, you might learn more from assessing the failed web sites around you.

Concentrating on success appears to bore our brains. It appears we are attracted to pick up on failure. Importantly, this research also found that our “mirror neurons” (brain cells that are activated in sympathy to the firing of brain cells in another individual) are also switched on when the “competitor” is a computer. In other words, your brain will be fired up when you are not assessing the failures of business people you know – but also by their online representation in the form of websites, or perhaps social media materials. It suggests that we should all be looking for bad examples of online business, not good ones.

By focusing on the failures, your brain will help you learn more and create an increased chance of success. According to the researchers we focus on the failures so that we can avoid making the mistakes ourselves. Interestingly, the world’s leading entrepreneurs have almost always failed big-time before succeeding. Perhaps it is time to focus on failure, rather than success if you want to do better online.

If the owners of Everton are closely watching the Liverpool chaos – they will learn from it in more ways than one…!

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