It’s funny, how even fundamental things change so rapidly.
A few weeks ago, I was very happy with my life as an edu-entrepreneur (and I certainly still am!).
Then, out of the blue, I’m encouraged to apply for a Ph.D.
I’m very much in doubt, but simultaneously very intrigued by the idea.
I think about it, considering my options.
“How do I build the best possible foundation for my continued work and contributions to the field of education?”
There’s no one answer, of course, but I’m aware, that the Ph.D.-appraoch would certainly grant me valuable opportunities.
I decide to give it a shot.
Hey, “immer ein abenteuer”, right?
The perpetual adventure that is life.
Now, the project is split between The Animation Workshop (part of Via University College) and Aalborg Universty (in Copenhagen). First, there’s an internal deadline in VIA, where they have to select their candidates, followed by the “real” deadline with the The Danish Council for Independent Research. It’s all just a few short weeks down the line.
I write an early brainstorm, and, in continuation of my many attempts to promote “transparent communication”, I throw it out there for people to comment upon.
I receive much valuable feedback, and in a few hectic days, I write a very, very rough draft.
The other day, I learned that the internal selection in VIA didn’t turn out in my favor.
No reason to lie; being turned down is never fun.
It just isn’t.
The decision seems to have been more influenced by internal politics than the content of the applications, and even though that’s a bit frustrating, it’s the way it is. I somehow understand.
A few weeks ago, I didn’t even want a Ph.D. Now I don’t want to give up the idea.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned by being self-employed for the last five years, it is to be stubborn. Too stubborn, some might say. It’s just…I don’t care much for giving up.
There’s always another way. Sometimes you’ll just need to look a little harder, dig a little deeper.
I like digging.
So now I’m investigating these other ways.
I’m not interested in doing a PhD at any cost. Not at all. Many things need to be “right” for it to make sense, and the project itself needs to be defined (primarily) by me. If not, then I’ll spend my time on something else. I’m not looking for a job, I’m just (always) looking for ways to learn, and become better at what I and want to continue doing: challenge and improve education.
I might be a bit naive here, but I’m putting some effort into that; remaining naive, and a tad idealistic.
I don’t care about jobs or careers.
I care about A) having fun & B) improving the world (however slightly).
“But what is it that I want to research”, you might ask.
That’s a fair question, considering you’ve read this far.
If you want details, you’re welcome to read the application.
In short, I want to find out, what game developers can teach us about working with game development, creativity, innovation & entrepreneurship in education. Can we build a model for game development together with actual game developers – and can this approach contribute to the (as I see it, necessary) transformation of education?:
the project also operates with a broader scope, studying to what extent this transformed role of teachers and students can inspire both groups to perceive themselves as creative entrepreneurs capable of designing and developing innovative solutions.
Here’s a small excercise:
Repeat after me:
failure is good
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”:
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
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:
These students don’t see themselves as in control of their success or failure. It’s the school’s fault
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:
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
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.
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
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?
I am not very good at not being intrigued and fascinated by the world, and by the combined forces of stubbornness and serendipity, I repeatedly find myself falling in love with new topics in whole new areas. Though this has some implications for my spare time, I generally consider it a privilege to be able to live and work along such a rather exploratory pattern.
My infatuation with entrepreneurship is one such area.
I am not, however, primarily interested in the business- or commercial side of things. This is not to say that I ignore financial realities or neglect the notion of actually making money; I don’t and I do acknowledge the importance of that dimension.
Despite this, what really pulls me in is the creativity, the ideas, the drive, the initiative, the desire to change the world (however small the change may be).
I am clearly not alone when I maintain, that the world is desperately in need of more people with the will and ability to make changes. In society as a whole, we put great emphasis on creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship as the primary future sources of wealth. We shall not make a profit on producing cars, but on developing ideas, concepts, new services and solutions.
We are not quite there yet, though, and too much education remains focused on maintaining status quo, doing as we’re used to, rather than on promoting change.
Point to problem or deliver solution?
Most people don’t believe they are capable of initiative.
Most people have been brainwashed into believing that their job is to copyedit the world, not to design it.
As written by die-hard proponent of entrepreneurship, Seth Godin, the fact is that all too many people doubt their own ability to perform change.
Change begins with the initiative. Someone must be the instigator, the agent of change, taking the initiative and making things happen.
But where does initiative come from? And is it possible to “teach” people to show more initiative?
First, you need to pinpoint something in need of change, an area where you could see something better happen. I would argue that quite a large number of people are actually able to identify such areas.
Next step would be to figure out how such change could take place. You need imagination, the ability to not do as you’ve been told, to provide alternative solutions. This is harder, and fewer people are probably good at this.
Finally comes execution. If pointing out problems is easy and thinking up solutions is somewhat harder, actually making the change, the push, is what eventually puts many people off. Perhaps they don’t really believe in their idea, or they doubt they have the capacity to carry it out.
Chances are, that people, more than anything else, are intimidated by the fear of failing.
Before embracing the initiative, we must thus embrace failure.
I think there’s been a widespread and very unfortunate tendency to paint and maintain a very bleak, almost dystopian picture of the ramifications of failure. In education, our incessant obsession with testing, measuring and grading is not exactly working against the fear of failure. On the contrary, when every single student is met with high expectations to do well in tests, the will to experiment and quite possibly fail is probably reduced, if not eliminated altogether.
At the same time, though, history is filled to the brim with examples reinforcing the basic idea that behind every breakthrough is a series of failures.
Failing can be hard, of course, but rarely fatal. Much more often failure is instructive, a necessary part of the process, which eventually leads to non-failures. Success, if you like.
We desperately need to reinterpret “failure” and readjust the ways in which we frame it. Perhaps we should not even talk about failure, but just consider it one possible outcome, which can be improved.
Odd as it may sound, we need to encourage kids to fail, not least in education. As educators, we must take on the responsibility to challenge norms, conventions and ways of thinking. We must act and think differently, and we must allow kids to do the same, regardless of the fact, that they may fail (often).
Just do it…now!
Go, start something.
Currently, my favorite example is the enthusiastic and hard working guys over at ClearCut Games.
They’re at GameIT College, yet (luckily) their ambitions reach further than “just” being a student of games. Much further.
They want to become real game developers, obviously, so they began developing Cado, which is scheduled for release on iOS this summer (as any game developer knows, this is prone to change). They’re in a safe zone right now, as they’re attending school, and developing games in their spare time (that’s the official story, at least). From my perspective, using this safety to experiment with the risks and rewards of entrepreneurship is just brilliant.
They’re great guys, great company, great inspiration. They are, however, not very representative. We need more like them, more people performing a leap of faith, plunging into what is not yet known.
My point is not that we need everybody to develop games and start all kinds of game companies (despite the importance of games).
What we do need, however, is the courage, the passion, the desire. We definitely need more people founding companies based on great ideas, but we also need people instigating change within existing companies and organisations. None of us should shy away from pursuing better solutions, challenging traditions and the structures we navigate within. Most importantly, we should not be afraid of failing.
…and heck, if such an approach allows you to follow your dreams in the process, wouldn’t that be worth something?