Nothing FAILS like SUCCESS…

…when our success is based upon a false assumption, an atypical application, or a restricted context.

Now, we all understand the opposite thought; that nothing SUCCEEDS like SUCCESS in terms of proving that something works, that it’s effective, or is the right course of action. Experiencing success with any practice or routine can be very compelling and the thought of continued effective and efficient results quite alluring. However, the true source of our success must be examined before we can exalt the virtues of whatever it is we’ve chosen to do.

Here’s what I know: Having the stomach flu can result in rapid weight-loss, but that doesn’t make having the stomach flu a best practice when it comes to slimming down. While this is an over-simplified example I think it illustrates two things. First, even though the result of losing weight is positive, the means is not justified by the end.  Second, the results are obviously due to atypical circumstances and will be short-lived once the conditions change or revert back to normal.  Admittedly, most other situations are not that simple and/or easy to recognize, but the point is to know why success is happening.

Sometimes having limited success is worse than no success at all as limited success can lead to an unwillingness to reflect, adjust, redesign, or go in another direction. Afterall, what I’m trying is working, but I don’t have enough experience with it to have perspective on the level of success being realized. Sometimes my limited success has nothing to do with the new practice or routine and has everything to do with the particular group or the particular environment in which the success is occurring.

Let’s face it – there are a few students who are motivated by low grades, do respond positively to punitive discipline practices, prefer a lecture-style lesson delivery, and/or will not need a second-chance to perform at their best. There are, of course, no absolutes in any situation and there are always exceptions to the rule.

On the other hand, while these exception-to-the-rule students do exist, basing our decisions about what works and doesn’t work on these exceptions can lead to us to implementing – even promoting and/or defending – practices that are not universally applicable and are not supported with any empirically sound research.  What works in a senior physics class, for example, can produce different results in a 9th grade science class – and that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the younger students.  It means that the success was based upon a restricted context; an atypical class composition of students who chose physics versus a general science class that all students are expected to take.

The point is this: when experiencing success with any new practice, routine, idea, or program be as sure as possible that the success is grounded in the fundamentals of what you are implementing and that it is not the result of some other condition or circumstance.  Nothing fails like success when our success is based upon a half-truth or an atypical situation.  Being aware of these conditions helps us know the source of our success and allows us to have a greater perspective on what we are seeing.

Nothing succeeds like success when you are confident that your success has wide applicability and is empirically sound.  Results do matter, but how those results were realized might matter more.