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Focusing only on success renders people unable to solve real problems, New York Times article says

Published: Monday, Feb. 4 2013 7:00 p.m. MST

While celebrating breakthroughs is important, not discussing failure is an important impediment to further success, according to an opinion column by Nieman Foundation reporting fellow Sam Loewenberg in The New York Times.

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In her speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Elizabeth Warren famously said, "We’re Americans. We celebrate success."

Celebrating success, ingenuity and creativity is a uniquely American trait, according to Brian John Spencer, a blogger for the Huffington Post UK edition. "Americans, by their very Constitution, hold these ideals of personal liberty, self-reliance and restless ambition to be self evident," he wrote. "Yet in Britain we recoil with horror from those who ... strive to push ahead. ... Where the Americans celebrate success we play things down."

While celebrating breakthroughs is important, not discussing failure is an important impediment to further success, according to an opinion column by Nieman Foundation reporting fellow Sam Loewenberg in The New York Times.

"Success stories are rarely the whole story," he writes. "Global health and development projects frequently go off course, and it’s not unusual for them to fail outright. What is unusual is for researchers to openly discuss their failures. That’s a shame, because it’s a basic principle of science that you get things right by analyzing what went wrong."

In tough economic times the pressure is on nonprofit organizations to show they are getting results with donors' money, he says. "This creates an incentive to go for easy victories, highlight successes and bury failures," wrote Loewenberg. "Even with the new fad in the aid world for metrics and impact assessments, their public reports are rarely forthcoming about missteps," he added.

He concludes the piece arguing: "While aid organizations must be accountable for outcomes, that pressure for positive results should not be an encouragement to skimp on the truth. Making a difference in the world is hard, often messy work. Pretending otherwise is no help at all."

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