Posted by: kenwbudd | January 13, 2010

Only Hire People That Learn From Their Mistakes

Harness the power of learning from mistakes. Some of the great high achievers in this world give credit to their relentless focus on small mistakes.

Recently, researchers at Columbia University divided student subjects into two groups, “grade hungry” and “knowledge hungry” and then tested them with general knowledge questions.

The researchers provided immediate feedback as to whether the subject was right or wrong, and showed them the correct answer. The brain activity of the subjects was monitored throughout, using EEG caps.

The differences in the way the subjects handled the feedback was striking:

  • The Knowledge-Hungry paid attention (but not quite as obsessively) to whether they were right or wrong, and they paid significantly more attention to the correct answers. They took advantage of the chance to learn. This contrast was most dramatic when each group got an answer wrong.
  • The Knowledge-Hungry activated deep memory regions, indicating they were storing these new facts away for later.
  • The Grade-Hungry did not activate the memory regions as deeply, suggesting a far more cursory interest; instead, their brains seemed to feel threatened by learning they’d gotten an answer wrong.
  • The Grade-Hungry brains showed a far more emotional, fearful response. They clearly did not like being wrong, and they didn’t care about the acquisition of knowledge along the way.

When both groups of students were later ‘surprised’ by a retest, using only the questions they’d gotten wrong the first time around, the Knowledge-Hungry group did far better than the Grade-Hungry group. Clearly, they had ‘learned’ the new knowledge and had not only retained it, but were also able to recall it at will.

So, from a neuromanagement viewpoint, it would make a lot of sense to hire people capable of learning from their mistakes. Hiring the equivalent of the “grade hungry” students will yield employees who are motivated but who, over time, may not improve their performance nearly as much as individuals who internalise lessons learned, when things don’t work perfectly.

The question now is how do you screen candidates for this trait; the ability to learn from their mistakes?

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