Overdetermined Successes and Failures


We love a good story, and depending on whether you prefer drama, action, or romance you’ll end up with a villain or a hero. It is very tempting to think of our successes and failures in the same way, but that would be a costly mistake.

In math a system of equations is considered overdetermined if there are more equations than unknowns. Our informal adaptation to business (or life): Next time you catch yourself thinking something failed because of X, pause there. We’ve found that our learning can be significantly accelerated when we keep asking: What else contributed to those results? That line of questioning can reveal multiple factors that contributed to that outcome, say three things that all helped drive to success and one thing that would have led to failure if not cushioned by the three aforementioned. Your new insight might be change a story of “we failed because of this” , into “we failed because of this and that, and in spite of that one part going incredibly well”.

What was a recent failure or success for you? Does this line of questioning offer new insights?

To get the most learning for your organization, operationalize these, maybe by adding the success contributors to your standard checklists and adding a “beware off” cautionary list summarizing the more painful lessons learned.


Sophia Sparklin

Growing up in a family with generations in medical practice, Sophia discovered her passion for architecture during an internship 1996. Since then Sophia received formal and informal education in Germany and the US. At Arizona State University she was honored by the Henry Adams Certificate for graduating on top of her (Master of Architecture) class in 2005.