Learning from Failure

Alexander Wilhelmsson, Sidney Dekker and Daniel Hummerdal

in The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Engineering

Published in print February 2013 | ISBN: 9780199757183
Published online May 2013 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

 Learning from           Failure

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  • Cognitive Psychology


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Technological and engineered systems sometimes fail. To make progress and to prevent such mishaps from reoccurring, people and organizations try to learn from failure. This chapter begins with an overview of classical theories of what is meant by learning from failure. However, an analysis of the recurrence of disasters at NASA highlights some shortcomings of these approaches and casts doubts on any efforts to identify and locate “failure.” Whereas what is learned from failure depends on how we understand failure, it is not the failure in itself that dictates what is learned from failure. Reality provides little, if any, guidance as to how failures are to be understood. It is hence possible to tell many different kinds of stories about every mishap. This variety can be seen as a resource for organizations. The more variety, the more there is to learn.

Keywords: learning; failure; accident; investigation; drift

Article.  6957 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Cognitive Psychology

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