Lesson 115: Learning from failure and defeat
TV Series: Star Trek - The Next Generation
Season/Episode: 2/3 ('Elementary, Dear Data')


Data, an android, programs the Holodeck to experience a Sherlock Holmes mystery. Having downloaded all of the Sherlock Holmes novels into his memory, thereby knowing all of the conclusions, Data always easily solves the mysteries without any effort at all.

Dr. Pulaski points out that Data, as a computer, is unable to experience the true mystery of the unknown and, therefore, cannot really experience the human condition of the thrill of victory because there is no risk of failure in his approach.

She also points out to Data that we humans actually learn much more from losing than from winning, and more from a fatal mistake than from a success.


Learning from our losses and mistakes is a concept lost on many humans.

If losses and mistakes are seen as only failures and something to be admonished and reprimanded, then we miss a golden opportunity to learn and improve ourselves.

Victories, while elating us in success, really do nothing more than to confirm either that our approach in the competition was basically correct or perhaps better than that of our losing opponents, if any.

Whereas, a single or a first victory may teach us that we have chosen the correct path, repeated victories may indicate a lack of true competition or challenge and leads us into complacency.

From the late 1960's to the early 1970's, George Foreman became the most fearsome boxer in the world. After winning the Gold Medal in boxing at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Foreman turned professional.

By winning all of his fights, mostly by knockouts, Foreman had become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. The knockout thunder of his punches always defeated his opponents quickly within the first few rounds of each of his 37 out of 40 different successful fights.

Then came the 'Rumble in the Jungle', Foreman's fight with the legendary icon of boxing, Muhammad Ali, in Kinshasa, Zaire in 1974 for the heavyweight championship of the world.

For the first time in his entire career, Foreman had to fight well into the eighth round.

After throwing his powerhouse bone crushing punches at Ali, who basically moved very little, but mostly stayed glued to the ropes, absorbing everything Foreman had to throw, the invincible Foreman began showing severe signs of fatigue.

The juggernaut punches of Foreman had by now turned into well-telegraphed, slow motioned swats incapable of any real damage. With Foreman gasping for a breath and his arms now cuffed by the anvils of eight grueling rounds, Ali stepped in. A quick left followed by a devastating right and the master had given the student the final lesson. Forman was knocked out.

More was learned in that fight by Foreman and by everyone watching, than in the 40 fights which preceded Foreman's career. This loss by Foreman, lead to the introduction of new tactics in boxing and to better appreciation of intelligence over brute strength in a competition.

Foreman had also discovered his Achilles' heel - stamina.

The thrill of victory, especially repeated victories, can never teach us as much as the agony of one defeat.

Back to lessons in Mankind

Disclaimer: This website is not associated or endorsed by Paramount Pictures or CBS Studios Inc., the owners of the Star Trek trademarks, related marks and copyrights. References to Star Trek material on this web site complies with the Fair or Acceptable Use Principle established in the U.S. and International copyright law for the purposes of review, study, criticism and news reporting. No copyright infringement is intended by this website. All original work provided on this website is the sole copyrighted property of and may not be reproduced in any form without the express written permission from