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The success of failure

December 4, 2011

I am convinced as educational institutions we do not celebrate and nurture failure enough. Our days are so centered on highlighting success, and drilling into our students and faculty minds, that success is the measure which validates the time and effort we put into each of our days.

Life’s and the world problems are messy, inconsistent, unclear, and more importantly do not come with clear solutions. Sometimes there are no solutions! This is the reality many of us walked into once we left school.  Each of us has built capacity to learn and deal with this differently and the learning occurring in the motion of confronting the problems. Future generations of students will and are heading out of the school gates into this dynamic.

An acquaintance shared with me a perspective a few Venture Capitalist work with before investing into start ups. They look how many times a potential group/organization has failed in trying to start something, and the more failure they have experienced the more likely these Venture Capitalist will invest in them. The premise is that from each failure, there is significant learning that takes place, and as you build on this learning, and fail again, you increase your capacity to deal with the next set of problems. Through this process and engagement you as a group/organization are more likely to succeed with your idea. A key ingredient tied to this premise is the level of tenacity, passion, and belief you engage with as a group/organization in confronting multiple failures and what learning/lesson you build from this to then deal with the next challenge ahead.

A group of students pictured above working with Lego Mindstorms, faced an issue with the version they had installed on their laptops. The Lego Mindstorms software was not fully compatible with the MacOS version running on the laptop.  Lego Mindstorms had not updated some of the drivers to work with more recent version of the Mac OS they where working with. The problem they faced was some functions required you to tap, click multiple times, sometimes it worked and sometime it did not. Their solution  just tap/clicked till it worked, and before long they understood how many taps/clicks they needed for the function to work. This they integrated  into their collective problem solving and moved on. They continued to come across glitches. They adapted each time a set of strategies to work around the failure with one goal in mind to have their robots do some movements and tricks. Even though things took longer, often requiring restarting the computer, or clicking non stop, it became part of their workflow and solution to a messy problem. The passion, tenacity, and collective energy had them, even thought failing quite a lot, over come the problems and learning a little more little by litte to program the Robots to move and do tricks. Their goal and measure of success.

A group of International School students taking part in the European Student Film Festival Challenge came to a roadblock. Partly to the fact that these 6 individuals had never worked together, some where from different schools, different countries and cultures. The dynamics in front of them was pretty much one problem after another, coupled with the pressure of being in a timed challenge. They gradually unpacked things slowly, each step faced with a level of failure, but giving them a better understanding of the other group members potential. The setting for their collaboration was around a set of chairs with a chess set in the middle, which often saw them fiddling with, as an outlet to their nervousness and stress. The only common ingredient they all brought to the group, was each was passionate about Film. Individually they knew they each had a set of skills that could contribute towards their challenge. Surrounded by the discomfort of hesitation, false starts, juggling opinions, different individual needs, unpacking the parameters of the challenge, translating it into something concrete they all could move forward with. 24 hours later below was the result.


Czechmate used with permission from Julien M.  A collaboration and joint production by Begum E., Ema E., Jerome B., Julien M., Lenny M., and Oliver Z winner of the European Student Film Festival Film Challenge Excellence Award.

We should stop and celebrate failure within our groups/organizations more often than we do. Make it part of every learning experience. Invite ourselves to focus on the unique learning which failure can bring to our reflections, ideas, and ability to overcome the messiness of problems we face and will face. If our respective communities spent more time taking apart the failures we experience, look at each moment, see what components are in play, give us opportunities to do things differently than before. This can be the celebration of our collective learning from which we build our successes.

John
http://beyonddigital.org

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 4, 2011 9:19 pm

    John, what a great little film! Congratulations to Julien and his group.

    You are so right about the failure being important. When my students finish with a performance task one of their reflection questions is always, “What didn’t go well? What did you do about it?” After all how can I tell if they are problem solvers if they don’t have problems and they can’t tell how they overcame them. I think we will always celebrate success but the intensity of celebration should be equal to the amount of failure and difficulties overcome that got you to that success.

    I am already thinking of how I will put greater emphasis on this aspect when I introduce the perf task for our current inquiry unit this afternoon! So thanks for that!

  2. Nancy vonWahlde permalink
    December 5, 2011 5:08 am

    I love what you wrote, and Lindy’s comment as well. Investing time to reflect on what went wrong and explicitly discussing these experiences will allow us to become comfortable with acknowledging the problems and more able to learn from them. We need to celebrate patience and tenacity as well as success!

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