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How did you do that? Exploring the motivation to learn from others’ exceptional success

Ryan W. Quinn, PhD C. Myers S. Kopelman S.A. Simmons
Academy of Management Discoveries. February 28, 2020

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In this paper, we explore how perceptions of other people’s exceptional success influence individuals’ motivation to learn, a relationship that is surprisingly unexplored within the broad literature on learning in organizations. Our research reveals, across two distinct samples and methodologies, that individuals’ motivation to learn is higher when they encounter performance by another person that the individual perceives to be more exceptionally successful than when they perceive the other’s performance as a more “normal” success. We also observe, in line with prior research, some marginal support for the notion that this motivation to learn is also higher when individuals perceive other’s performance as more of a failure. Our second study further reveals that the relationship between others’ performance and the motivation to learn is mediated by interest and moderated by surprise. We discuss the implications of these results for provoking new theorizing, measurement, and practical implementation of learning in organizations.