William Liao

March 11, 2022

failure dynamics

In 2019 Dr. Yian Yin and colleagues published a paper titled “Quantifying the dynamics of failure across science, startups, and security” in Nature, one of the most prestigious academic journals out there. 

In the paper, Yin and his team analyzed massive data sets capturing the successes and failures of different institutions to see if there were any noteworthy differences. 

There are three interesting findings that I think are useful for anyone who is trying to make meaningful progress in their endeavors: 

  1. Hard work is only part of the equation. The institutions that succeeded tended to fail just as many times as those that failed, therefore hard work alone doesn’t quite explain their success. This leads me to the next point…
  2. Learn, apply, repeat. The institutions that succeeded tended to achieve measurable improvement with each attempt, whereas the institutions that ultimately failed tended to perform the same or worse with each attempt. 
  3. Bounce back quickly. The institutions that succeeded tended to get up and try again more quickly than those that failed. 

To put these findings into practice, you can reverse engineer them and turn them into questions that you ask yourself daily:

  1. What is success and did I attempt to make progress towards it today? 
  2. What did I learn from my attempt and how I can apply that next time? 
  3. How quickly can I try again? 

Like all things in life, these three tips guarantee nothing. But, if the paper’s findings are any indication, putting them into practice definitely can’t hurt 🙂.