In the past few weeks, I have run into “failure” several times. First, a colleague wanted to have a get together to talk about our collective failures in starting companies, which led to a roundtable discussion. Then, it seemed like I encountered more and more stories of failure at every turn — from my students to my fellow entrepreneurs, from videos I use in my class to articles I came across on the Internet. From the ubiquity of failure, it occurred to me again (my brain has gone down this path many times before) that failure is a natural part of life.
I found myself telling my students not to be afraid of failure and, in fact, to embrace it. “Fail fast,” I said, “so you can pick yourself up, redirect your efforts and try something at last slightly intelligently better. This approach often leads to ultimate success. Just because 9 out of 10 startups fail does not mean that they fail forever. It means you may have to fail 9 times before you succeed once.
But my students still have trouble embracing failure. As a society, we worship success so much that we think that failure is bad thing instead of part of the learning process. As toddlers, we only learn to walk, because we fall down enough times to figure out how to do it successfully. We only learn to talk, because when we say, “I want food”, it comes out “Goo-goo gaa-gaa”, and we do not get what we want, only smiling, giggling adults.
What do we need to do to encourage more students to try something, fail and learn from the mistakes without being penalized? In my class, I usually let the students rewrite essays or blog posts and retake quizzes until they master the topics. Why not? Isn’t that the point? Maybe if we take time out to tell stories of failure more often and what we learned, how we turned it into success, we will truly teach students how to soar high above the clouds instead of hiding below the tree line.
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