Excellence is not the Opposite of Failure
Marcus Buckingham states this well in Go Put Your Strengths to Work:
The radical idea at the core of the strengths movement is that excellence is not the opposite of failure, and that, as such, you will learn little about excellence from studying failure.
This seems like an obvious idea until you realize that, before the strengths movement began, virtually all business and academic inquiry was built on the opposite idea: namely, that a deep understanding of failure leads to an equally deep understanding of excellence. That’s why we studied unhappy customers to learn about the happy ones, employees’ weaknesses to learn how to make them excel, sickness to learn about health, divorce to learn about marriage, and sadness to learn about joy.
What has become evident in virtually every field of human endeavor is that failure and success are not opposites, they are merely different, and so they must be studied separately. Thus, for example, if you want to learn what you should not do after an environmental disaster, Chernobyl will be instructive. But if you want to learn what you should do, Chernobyl is a waste. Only successful cleanups, such as the Rocky Flats nuclear facility in Colorado, can tell you what excellence looks like.
Study unproductive teams, and you soon discover that the teammates argue a lot. Study successful teams, and you learn that they argue just as much. To find the secrets of a great team, you have to investigate the successful ones and figure out what is going on in the space between the arguments.