The New England Patriots in 2015 were a decade removed from their last championship when they faced off against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX.
Seattle entered the game as defending champion. But New England and star quarterback Tom Brady came onto the field with an intangible advantage.
“Failure is information,” Professor of Cognitive Studies Xiaodong Lin-Siegler, Founding Director of the Education for Persistence and Innovation Center (EPIC), points out. “Maybe Tom Brady's big success during that ten-year drought was attaining valuable information no one else could have attained.”
If so, the value of failure paid a handsome dividend, as the Pats emerged with a 28-24 victory, the third of the team’s six championships with Brady at the helm.
Lin shared her observations on her groundbreaking studies on failure as a stepping stone to success with Gotham Chopra, host of the ten-part podcast and ESPN+ series Man in the Arena: Tom Brady.
[Listen to Lin-Siegler’s podcast appearance on “Fail Safe.”]
“We’re trying to understand the science behind people’s ability to come back from a failure to achieve big time in their lives,” Lin-Siegler says of the research of the Center, which she launched in 2018. “Failure has been stigmatized in schooling and society and is associated with losers.” Brady’s career, Lin added, stands as testament that “failure” and “loser” are not synonymous, and offers a template for EPIC research and developmental studies.
Notably, “the biggest achievers usually have overcome the biggest, most severe failures before they have achieved,” Lin told the sports network.
This is the thesis at the heart of the interdisciplinary hub, which is at the forefront of research that explores the connection between early failure and later successful pursuits of world class success by outstanding athletes and Nobel Laureates. Examples of the failures of exceptional achievers are of particular value as a teaching tool for underserved students as well as for training executive leaders.
“How people and organizations interpret and react to failures is what counts for their subsequent productivity and insights. Reaction to failure is exactly what EPIC is studying: How to best utilize setbacks to turn failures into success.”
In addition to providing valuable insight on football stars like Brady, Lin-Siegler recently weighed in on “How to Succeed at Failure,” Harvard Professor Arthur C. Brooks’ article in The Atlantic.
Advising both children and adults to “think about others’ past failures (as well as your own)”, Lin directed Brooks to EPIC research that found that students who were introduced to the failures of leading scientists were able to benefit more from their own failures than counterparts taught success-focused lessons.
She advised individuals to focus on the value of “improvement and learning,” rather than success alone. “The value we create in work and life has less to do with our awards than with our knowledge and experience, which include what we learn from falling short,” Lin-Siegler shared with Dr. Arthur Brooks.
Lin also emphasized the importance of keeping one’s values at the heart of all endeavors. She observed that Nobel Laureates “have (an) insatiable passion and hunger to discover the truth about a problem. Winning a Nobel Prize was never these people's motivation for their hard work. Helping children find work about which they’re passionate should be a major goal of education.”
Read more about the collaborative research and work of EPIC.