Abstract

http://ssrn.com/abstract=2426674
 
 

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'My Bad!' How Internal Attribution and Ambiguity of Responsibility Affect Learning from Failure


Christopher G. Myers


Harvard Business School - Organizational Behavior

Bradley R. Staats


University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School

Francesca Gino


Harvard University - Harvard Business School

April 18, 2014

Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 14-104

Abstract:     
Learning in organizations is a key determinant of individual and organizational success, and one valuable source of this learning is prior failure. Previous research finds that although individuals can learn from failed experiences, they do not always do so. To explain why this is true, we explore how individuals process failed experiences as a potential source of learning. Drawing on attribution theory, we conceptualize the differential impact that internal (self-focused) and external (factors outside of one’s control) attributions after failure may have on individuals’ learning and identify a key factor that shapes whether individuals attribute failure internally or externally, namely perceived ambiguity of responsibility. We hypothesize that when perceived ambiguity of responsibility is low rather than high, individuals will be more likely to attribute their failure internally and in turn devote more effort to learning and improving. We test our hypotheses using data collected in field and laboratory settings. This multi-method approach supports our theoretical model and permits us to gain further insight into how learning from failure occurs for individuals in work organizations.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 53

Keywords: Learning, Failure, Internal Attribution, Ambiguity, Responsibility


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Date posted: April 20, 2014  

Suggested Citation

Myers, Christopher G. and Staats, Bradley R. and Gino, Francesca, 'My Bad!' How Internal Attribution and Ambiguity of Responsibility Affect Learning from Failure (April 18, 2014). Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 14-104. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2426674 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2426674

Contact Information

Christopher G. Myers
Harvard Business School - Organizational Behavior ( email )
Soldiers Field
Boston, MA 02163
United States
Bradley R. Staats
University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School ( email )
McColl Building, CB#3490
Chapel Hill, NC 27599
United States

Francesca Gino (Contact Author)
Harvard University - Harvard Business School ( email )
Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States
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