About this Research Topic

Manuscript Submission Deadline 30 August 2022

Failures constitute a ubiquitous threat to organizational operations. Yet, they offer opportunities for learning, thus carrying within them the seeds of future success. However, taking advantage of the rich information embedded in failures can be challenging for individuals, teams, and organizations alike. Effective learning from such events requires distinguishing between failures and errors: Failures refer to (performance) outcomes that fall short of expectations. Errors reflect flaws in the process. Consequently, failures may result from a variety of sources, including errors, but also adverse exogenous influences. In turn, errors do not always nor necessarily lead to failures; they may as well be inconsequential or even beneficial (e.g., as in the discovery of penicillin). Obstacles to effective learning are present with respect to all mechanisms, which need to act in concert to achieve error or failure reduction. Opportunity, motivation, and ability to learn from failures and errors: Review, synthesis, and ways to move forward. Opportunity, motivation, and ability to learn; and barriers to learning exist at all levels of analysis, ranging from the individual to the group and organizational level, covering, for example, biased causal attributions of successes and failures by individuals, lack of systematic error/failure related information gathering activities by groups, and adverse ‘blame the (individual) scapegoat’ cultures in organizations.

Research examining failure learning and error management has proliferated over the past two decades or so, yielding many significant insights. Nevertheless, important issues remain unresolved. For one, in the conceptual domain, there is still a dearth of integrative approaches across learning mechanisms, levels of analysis, and disciplinary fields, which might allow for more comprehensive understanding of failure learning and the complex interplay of factors at the individual, group and organizational levels. Furthermore, from an empirical viewpoint, in some areas, specific research contexts dominate (e.g., health-care sector in studies of the role of motivation at the organizational level), calling for studies into the generalizability of existing results across contexts. Contingencies, in general, still constitute a major area of debate, for example, in relation to cultural influences at the group or organizational level but also comprising the under-explored possible influences of national cultures. Finally, methodological advancements are important, given, for example, the challenges associated with measuring failures and errors in a way that appropriately accounts for the underreporting of such events by individuals, groups, and organizations.

This call for paper aims to bring together research on antecedents, contingencies, and outcomes of failure learning and error management. We encourage research from various disciplines and domains (such as Organizational Psychology, Leadership, Organization Studies, Management, Entrepreneurship, and Education) and the use of a variety of methodological approaches including both qualitative designs (e.g., case studies), quantitative designs (e.g., field and lab experiments, observational studies), and multi-method approaches (e.g., combinations of field data and simulations). Overall, this Research Topic aims to provide a forum for discussion of new ideas, recent developments, and underexplored challenges in the domains of failure learning and error management, considering interdisciplinary perspectives and drawing from novel methodological approaches. The proposed Research Topic encourages submissions on but not exclusively limited to the following themes:

• Interplay of factors facilitating/hindering learning within and across levels of analysis (individual, group, organization)
• Interplay of factors facilitating/hindering learning across mechanisms (opportunity, motivation, ability)
• Possible contextual contingencies (e.g., lab and field settings, across sectors, national cultures), for example:

o Cross-industry transferability of tools for facilitating failure learning/error management
o Cross-cultural differences in the effectiveness of different types of error management trainings, after-event reviews, etc.

• Effects of spurious successes/failures in obstructing learning, and possible remedial measures
• Influence of digitalization and automation in facilitating failure learning and error management
• Influence of machine learning and artificial intelligence in facilitating/hindering failure learning and error management
• Methodological improvements to measuring failures, errors, near-misses, and the responses to them
• Best practices of failure learning and error management in times of crisis/external shocks (e.g., Covid-19 pandemic, product recalls, accidents, etc.)

Types of Manuscript: Original Research; Systematic Review; Hypothesis and Theory; Methods, Conceptual Analysis.

Keywords: Failure learning, error management, error culture, psychological safety, near-misses


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Failures constitute a ubiquitous threat to organizational operations. Yet, they offer opportunities for learning, thus carrying within them the seeds of future success. However, taking advantage of the rich information embedded in failures can be challenging for individuals, teams, and organizations alike. Effective learning from such events requires distinguishing between failures and errors: Failures refer to (performance) outcomes that fall short of expectations. Errors reflect flaws in the process. Consequently, failures may result from a variety of sources, including errors, but also adverse exogenous influences. In turn, errors do not always nor necessarily lead to failures; they may as well be inconsequential or even beneficial (e.g., as in the discovery of penicillin). Obstacles to effective learning are present with respect to all mechanisms, which need to act in concert to achieve error or failure reduction. Opportunity, motivation, and ability to learn from failures and errors: Review, synthesis, and ways to move forward. Opportunity, motivation, and ability to learn; and barriers to learning exist at all levels of analysis, ranging from the individual to the group and organizational level, covering, for example, biased causal attributions of successes and failures by individuals, lack of systematic error/failure related information gathering activities by groups, and adverse ‘blame the (individual) scapegoat’ cultures in organizations.

Research examining failure learning and error management has proliferated over the past two decades or so, yielding many significant insights. Nevertheless, important issues remain unresolved. For one, in the conceptual domain, there is still a dearth of integrative approaches across learning mechanisms, levels of analysis, and disciplinary fields, which might allow for more comprehensive understanding of failure learning and the complex interplay of factors at the individual, group and organizational levels. Furthermore, from an empirical viewpoint, in some areas, specific research contexts dominate (e.g., health-care sector in studies of the role of motivation at the organizational level), calling for studies into the generalizability of existing results across contexts. Contingencies, in general, still constitute a major area of debate, for example, in relation to cultural influences at the group or organizational level but also comprising the under-explored possible influences of national cultures. Finally, methodological advancements are important, given, for example, the challenges associated with measuring failures and errors in a way that appropriately accounts for the underreporting of such events by individuals, groups, and organizations.

This call for paper aims to bring together research on antecedents, contingencies, and outcomes of failure learning and error management. We encourage research from various disciplines and domains (such as Organizational Psychology, Leadership, Organization Studies, Management, Entrepreneurship, and Education) and the use of a variety of methodological approaches including both qualitative designs (e.g., case studies), quantitative designs (e.g., field and lab experiments, observational studies), and multi-method approaches (e.g., combinations of field data and simulations). Overall, this Research Topic aims to provide a forum for discussion of new ideas, recent developments, and underexplored challenges in the domains of failure learning and error management, considering interdisciplinary perspectives and drawing from novel methodological approaches. The proposed Research Topic encourages submissions on but not exclusively limited to the following themes:

• Interplay of factors facilitating/hindering learning within and across levels of analysis (individual, group, organization)
• Interplay of factors facilitating/hindering learning across mechanisms (opportunity, motivation, ability)
• Possible contextual contingencies (e.g., lab and field settings, across sectors, national cultures), for example:

o Cross-industry transferability of tools for facilitating failure learning/error management
o Cross-cultural differences in the effectiveness of different types of error management trainings, after-event reviews, etc.

• Effects of spurious successes/failures in obstructing learning, and possible remedial measures
• Influence of digitalization and automation in facilitating failure learning and error management
• Influence of machine learning and artificial intelligence in facilitating/hindering failure learning and error management
• Methodological improvements to measuring failures, errors, near-misses, and the responses to them
• Best practices of failure learning and error management in times of crisis/external shocks (e.g., Covid-19 pandemic, product recalls, accidents, etc.)

Types of Manuscript: Original Research; Systematic Review; Hypothesis and Theory; Methods, Conceptual Analysis.

Keywords: Failure learning, error management, error culture, psychological safety, near-misses


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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