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Success Really Does Breed Success

In the mid-80s, a group of grad students at the University of Minnesota wanted to see if people would learn more quickly from success or failure. So they selected two bowling teams matched closely in experience, age, physical characteristic of bowlers, et cetera. One group was “Team A,” the other “Team B.” Then, the students videotaped a whole seasonʼs worth of tournaments. From these recorded tournaments, the students created two edited video tapes. The first tape showed only the mistakes that “Team A” members made—holding oneʼs breath; releasing the ball incorrectly; or visibly losing focus after a disappointing game. The second video, however, showed “Team B” members doing things right.

After each video was shown to the relevant team, the team members were encouraged to talk among themselves about what they had learned, and what if anything they wanted to change. Almost immediately both teams began to tell each other stories. The big difference was that “Team A” produced a series of painful, negative stories while the positive tape produced a much more optimistic appraisal of success for “Team B.”

Both teams improved their game after seeing their video. However “Team B”—the ones who got the “success” mixtape—improved their score 38% faster than “Team A.”

Bowlers learn more quickly and effectively by focusing on their success rather than their failures.

This same experiment has now been replicated with other sports, with similar results. Great golfers find it far more effective to visualize a shot going straight down the middle toward the center of the green, than saying over and over, “What ever you do, donʼt hit it into the rough.”

These studies form the basis of a new field of organizational development: Appreciative Inquiry ( Appreciative Inquiry, developed by David Cooperrider( and his associates, has found that people within organizations find it more productive to focus on what is working well—what is vital and successful within a business—rather than what is defective, deficient and destructive. In his work, participants are asked to tell stories of actual successful and vital events. What did those events actually look and feel like? The more specific the better.

AI says that what individuals and organizations focus on becomes reality; and the stories that are told within the organization reinforce that reality. The next time youʼre feeling stuck, visualize the outcome you want.

Say youʼre anxious to close a deal with a client. Hereʼs a few tips to move towards a positive mindset:

  • Think like “Team B”: recall a time when you closed that deal—when you were feeling vital, happy and successful.
  • In your mind, flesh out the details of that success. How were you feeling? What were you thinking? How were you behaving towards your client, and yourself?
  • Visualize doing more of what made you successful.
  • Now put that visualization into practice, and close this deal, too!

Bob is a certified executive coach. He helps managers and their teams become more successful by improving how they think and talk. Contact Bob at: