Exploring the Science of Getting Knocked Down and Getting Back Up: Wiss Sponsors New Research by Teachers College, Columbia University 

April 24, 2023


As part of our commitment to being a leader in our industry, Wiss is partnering with Teachers College, Columbia University to study the employee development process. Our involvement is part of a larger research project implemented by the Education for Persistence and Innovation Center (EPIC), run by Dr. Xiaodong Lin-Siegler and her team of researchers. As outlined in its mission statement, “EPIC conducts cutting-edge research on how experiences with failure can be redirected to fuel success.” Studying failure responses allows us to quantify what has previously been immeasurable. This research will help Wiss take the lead in recruiting, retaining, and evaluating employees through better-developed training programs and learning tools.

Last week, EPIC published their most recent work, “What Experiences Constitute Failures? High School Students’ Reflections on their Struggles in STEM Classes”. In this study, Dr. Lin-Siegler and her team interviewed 300 high school students about their experiences with struggles in math and science classes. The students were then asked to classify these experiences as a failure, success, neither, or both. In doing so, researchers found that many students’ negative experiences focused on the struggles they faced in the process of learning (subjective failure) rather than the outcome, such as a poor grade (objective failure). Most learning-process struggles were labeled as a failure when the student felt they could have done better or done something different to achieve better results. Moreover, students who labeled their struggles as anything other than failure did so because they learned something from the process or felt pride in overcoming an obstacle even if the outcome (grade) was not as good as they hoped.

Another key finding in this research is the emotions that presented themselves in the face of these challenges. Dr. Lin-Siegler found that the most experienced emotions were “high-arousal” emotions such as anger and frustration. Past research on emotions suggests that these high-arousal emotions can have one of two effects on a person. Dr. Lin-Siegler says, “High arousal and negative emotions can either activate or undermine motivation and achievement outcomes.” This suggests that the road to success and overcoming failure is to focus on changing how a person views their experiences. This theory is backed further by the findings that lower-achieving students had much higher rates of failure labeling than higher-achieving students. Researchers wrote, “The capacity to make informed decisions when facing failures is fundamental to becoming outstanding academic performers and producers in STEM and, more generally, is an essential building block to the psychological and motivational development needed for talent development.”

The ability to assess and understand the emotional and psychological aspects of facing challenges is critical in turning failure into a source of “learning capital” that can be used to develop more resilient, motivated, and successful top talent. 

“I feel very fortunate to have met Dr. Xiaodong Lin and her outstanding team who started the Education for Persistence and Innovation Center, focusing on the implications of failure.  Their research encouraged us to work together in the hopes of unlocking more opportunities for others. The more we understand the implications of failure and the role fear plays, the better we will be able to educate others on how to adapt and embrace failure,” says Paul Peterson, Managing Partner, Wiss.

Wiss will continue to work with EPIC as we actively take part in the next stage of their research focusing on corporate performance and success. We anticipate a bright future in collaboration with the EPIC team and look forward to more insights from Dr. Xiaodong Lin-Siegler as she works on an upcoming book about the failure of successful athletes.

The full research article can be found on The New York Academy of Sciences site.


Reach out to a Wiss team member for more information or assistance.

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