Battersea Power StationLondon’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, was in Battersea the other day “bigging up” the redevelopment of Battersea Power Station, that iconic landmark which many people only know from the front cover of Pink Floyd‘s album, Animals. Sadly, rather unlike the long-running success of the rock group’s music, the plans for the power station’s site are in tatters as the company which owns it went into financial administration just two-days after our Boris visited them. The company owed more than £500m and its debts were demanded by its banks, leaving it with no option but to call in the administrators.

Meanwhile, as one big firm is failing, another is succeeding. Today we hear that coffee giant Starbucks is to open almost 300 new outlets providing a further 5,000 jobs in Britain. Clearly, Starbucks is doing well; it is a massive success. Indeed, over the past five years Starbucks has grown by almost 18% and its profits have increased steadily in recent years. In fact, it is now making almost four times the operating profit it did back in 2009. Not bad, considering the stretched economic times we are all in.

Chief executives of many businesses would be tempted to look at how Starbucks has achieved its excellent record of success. Indeed, in business meetings up and down the country you will find senior executives demanding case histories and examples of how other businesses have done well. Success is something that business owners and leaders want to achieve and they think they can learn from the successful action of others.

However, they might learn more by looking at how Battersea Power Station failed instead of investigating how Starbucks succeeded. New neurological research from the University of Toronto shows that studying failure, rather than success, may be more beneficial to us.

The study looked at the brains of medical doctors who were asked to select the appropriate treatments for specific cases in a simulated emergency room exercise. It turned out that the physicians who looked at the failure of a treatment were able to make better decisions overall as a result of increased firing of the decision making regions of the brain. The doctors who only studied successful outcomes had less brain activity in the relevant regions and their ultimate decisions as to the selection of the appropriate treatments were less accurate. In other words studying failure makes it more likely that you choose the right decisions in the future.

Online this is a particular issue for many businesses. Everywhere you look there are examples of what businesses do well on the Internet, there are case histories of businesses that succeed on Twitter, or on Facebook for instance. You can find endless arrays of blog posts showing you how different companies succeed online. The problem is that there is little in-depth analysis of the failures. Studying those failed online businesses could well make your success on the Internet more likely.

So, in your business meetings today, instead of asking for examples of success, seek out those case histories of failure. Study them and you will improve your chances of online success.

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