Black swans, cognition, and the power of learning from failure

Allison S. Catalano, Kent Redford, Richard Margoluis, Andrew T. Knight

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Failure carries undeniable stigma and is difficult to confront for individuals, teams, and organizations. Disciplines such as commercial and military aviation, medicine, and business have long histories of grappling with it, beginning with the recognition that failure is inevitable in every human endeavor. Although conservation may arguably be more complex, conservation professionals can draw on the research and experience of these other disciplines to institutionalize activities and attitudes that foster learning from failure, whether they are minor setbacks or major disasters. Understanding the role of individual cognitive biases, team psychological safety, and organizational willingness to support critical self-examination all contribute to creating a cultural shift in conservation to one that is open to the learning opportunity that failure provides. This new approach to managing failure is a necessary next step in the evolution of conservation effectiveness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)584-596
Number of pages13
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018
Externally publishedYes


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