Should You Count Near-Misses as Successes or Failures?

Wired has an excellent article on research on near-misses:

It is the paradox of the close call. Probability wise, near misses aren’t successes. They are indicators of near failure. And if the flaw is systemic, it requires only a small twist of fate for the next incident to result in disaster. Rather than celebrating then ignoring close calls, we should be learning from them and doing our very best to prevent their recurrence. But we often don’t.

“People don’t learn from a near miss, they just say, ‘It worked, so let’s do it again,’” Dillon-Merrill says. Other studies have shown that the more often someone gets away with risky behavior, the more likely they are to repeat it; there is a sort of invincibility complex. “For ego protection reasons, we like to assume that past events are a product of what we controlled rather than chance,” Tinsley adds.

This reminds me of similar research mentioned in Tom Vanderbilt’s Trafficon driving accidents and a device that teaches young drivers using near-misses, which are far more common than the drivers realize others.

HT: Jordan Peacock

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  1. Alexander Boland says

    Oddly enough, there’s a corollary that came to mind because I misread your title:

    Near-successes are extremely valuable. You learn the most when you got close enough to succeeding that you almost achieved your goal.

    A bit of a silly example, but if I’m at a bar and a girl is clearly interested in me but I do something to mess it up, I can quickly learn what to do next time.

    • You can probably take that both ways actually; as you master the conditions governing something, it can tick over more and more from near-success to near-failure, with a fairly random period in between.

      But the direction of travel is important; if you are gaining more possibilities for failure, moving from reliable success to near failure, then you probably need to reassess your learning process given the environment, unless it is accompanied by a corresponding increase in near successes newly turning into successes, in which case you’d want to reassess the scope of your goals.