Let’s fail more often!

Here’s a small excercise:

Repeat after me:

[blockquote]failure is good[/blockquote]

To support this notion, I could fill this post with quotes from famous researchers, inventors & entrepreneurs, all arguing in favor of failure as a very natural, beneficial, even trivial component of life. I won’t do that, but staying in the realms of popculture, I’ll let J.K. Rowling have a say, quoting her beautiful, touching, deepfelt 2008 Harvard Commencement Address, “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination”:

[blockquote]It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default[/blockquote]

In education as well as society in general, we have succeeded in painting a much too bleak picture regarding the implications and meanings of failure. Our current infatuation with grades, exams, testing, assessing, measuring, quantifying, sadly only reinforces the fear of failure. We have this rigid, inappropriate system, where if you fail…you fail & it’s irreversible. Bad grades are potentially with you for a long time, just like a rap sheet.

Our educational systems not only maintain the black & white dichotomy between failure and success, they also seem to make students feel disempowered in their experiences with failure, as described by Ceri Jones:

[blockquote]These students don’t see themselves as in control of their success or failure. It’s the school’s fault[/blockquote]

We want to promote a willingness to fail, but not failure without ownership. We should allow students ownership and autonomy over successes as well as failures.

As a consequence of the current attitude towards failure, people don’t want to fail. They’re afraid of failing. Fear of failing inevitably leads to a fear of trying. Fear of trying again leads to lack of initiative. People remain in their assigned cubicles (metaphorically as well as literally), performing the daily grind.

In Letting Kids Fail Leads to Innovation, Jon Dudas is making this pretty clear:

[blockquote]We need to let kids explore new ideas that support experimentation and failure in the path to learning and innovation. […] We need new thinking, experiential learning and bold ideas to build a path to innovation and economic growth, and it starts with how we teach our kids. Let’s ask kids to try and fail without fear, to imagine the possibilities beyond the parameters within an assignment.  By investing in the innovative learning process with our students today, we are cultivating the problem-solvers of tomorrow [/blockquote]

As is so often the case (when you’re looking for that sort of thing, at least), games can teach us to stop thinking about failure as some final, catastrophic disaster.

Jane McGonigal is talking about “fun failure” in her book “Reality is broken“, arguing that games teach us to consider failure in a new light:

[blockquote]Learning to stay urgently optimistic in the face of failure is an important emotional strength that we can learn in games and apply in our real lives[/blockquote]

Another game designer, Margaret Robertson, has a beautiful account on how playing the painstakingly difficult Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls reminded her, that failure is not only acceptable, but desirable, a component improving the quality of life.

From my perspective, everything is pointing in one direction; we must all learn that failure is not something to fear, but something to embrace. Fear of failure should not stand in the way of initiative. Much can be changed in education, where we can definitely improve on our tolerace for failure, but it requires teachers to be much more willing to fail themselves.

What does it take? How do we challenge status quo, supporting students, teachers & people in general to fail more often?

4 thoughts on “Let’s fail more often!”

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