Those Near Misses Might Not Be So Bad After All

The long-term benefits of losing, according to science – Fast Company

The answers used to be simple. Research from multiple domains has shown that winners keep winning (the rich get richer). That means even a narrow win can snowball to generate runaway inequality, increasingly distancing winners from losers. So conventional wisdom would be always to bet on narrow winners.

That’s not what we found.

Horse Racing tips: Our traders’ 5 to follow from Saturday’s cardsWe examined both groups’ track records over the 10 years following their initial grant application, including grants won, publications, and publication impact (number of citations). As expected, winners gained more NIH and other grants over time—the rich did get richer.

But their near-miss peers matched them on number of papers published. And the most surprising part: their work had a greater impact than that of those who’d narrowly won early-career NIH grants.

These so-called losers outperformed the winners longer term.

One explanation is a “screening effect.” Failure weeds out those less equipped to succeed in the future. Indeed, near-miss scientists had a greater than 10% chance of permanently leaving the NIH system. But we found that wasn’t sufficient to explain our results. So we offer some of the first empirical evidence for Nietzsche’s classic phrase “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”