If you want to discover something other people haven’t

Published by Lori Pickert on July 7, 2012 at 04:55 PM

How do you fail constructively?

We’re taught to do things the right way. But if you want to discover something that other people haven't, you need to do things the wrong way. Initiate a failure by doing something that's very silly, unthinkable, naughty, dangerous. Watching why that fails can take you on a completely different path. It's exciting, actually. To me, solving problems is a bit like a drug. You're on it, and you can't get off. — Failure Doesn’t Suck (Sir James Dyson interview)

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8 comments

Comment by dawn suzette on July 7, 2012 at 11:58 PM

Sadly we are developing a society of people who only have a negative view of failure because it simply means not passing, not moving on to the next grade, not getting the promotion/raise in the job you hate (because it's not about the authenticity and creativity of the work it's about the promotion & money and the status that comes with it.) It becomes all about "not failing" instead of living and learning to the fullest.
My husband talks about a coach he once had who "played not to lose." I thought that was an interesting concept and this made me think of that idea.

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 8, 2012 at 06:51 AM

i would go so far as to say people think failure is not even tolerable anymore. this is how we end up with a high school class with several valedictorians — people will only accept winning. so, of course, it makes winning meaningless. (or at least dilutes its significance.)

if you've ever seen a school that is concentrating on getting its kids to pass their standardized tests, it's all about YOU CAN DO IT and WE ARE WINNERS. if *that* is the main goal that we're focusing on in school, then we are *not* focusing on things like scientific method (hypothesis, then experimentation, revising original ideas, etc.), creativity, experimentation, collaboration, etc.

"playing not to lose" — what a great mental picture. no more aim for the stars — aim for the ceiling. that way you won't fail!

Comment by David on July 8, 2012 at 05:21 AM

I think the same is true of risk taking. I guess I'm especially referring to physical risks here, like climbing a tree or using a hammer or balancing across the rocks in a stream. I think we're so quick to say "that's too dangerous" or "you might get hurt" instead of firstly - believing in a child's natural competence and self regulation, and secondly - allowing a mistake to be made so that real learning can occur. I think we need to be prepared to burst more of the bubble wrap we all too often roll our our kids into.

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 8, 2012 at 06:56 AM

david, i know you'll appreciate this story. in our preschool classroom we had baby food jars (glass) full of colored water for the children to use on the light table. some visiting teachers were aghast — you let the children have *glass*? what if it *breaks*?! i said, well, if it breaks, we clean it up. they were shaking their heads. then they watched the children (three and four years old) working and how carefully they used the materials, including getting them out and putting them away again. afterward, one of them said, "this is fine for *your* students, but *our* students could never handle it." so even when they saw that the children could adapt and be responsible and *rise to the level of our expectations*, they still rejected it!

"allowing a mistake to be made so that real learning can occur" — THIS!

Comment by David on July 11, 2012 at 09:58 PM

You're right...I did appreciate the story!! ;)

Grrrr...it's so frustrating when you hear people (especially other teachers) say "this is fine for *your* students, but *our* students could never handle it." Where are the expectations? What is their 'image of the child'? This links in for me with your next Blog post about time. So many teachers say "But I don't have the time to do that!"...Sure there are pressures...I don't deny that...but everything is a choice. If I value something, I MAKE THE TIME and then back up why I have made that choice by being very explicit with what my values and expectations are.

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 12, 2012 at 07:39 AM

i think what frustrates me most is how they shut it down before they've even tried it. if they sincerely give it a shot and it doesn't work for you, that's one thing. but if you say "my kids couldn't handle this" and don't even try, then you're working off bias rather than data.

this reminds me of the thoreau quote — his wish "to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion."

Comment by jacinda on July 8, 2012 at 10:55 PM

This intolerance of failure means that we can no longer playfully experiment and "fiddle around." Schools are full of learning outcomes and assessment driven schedules which is exactly the sort of environment which does not support exploring and learning. I wrote a little about this a while back after I watched "The Garbage Warrior" and Mike Reynold's persistence in his right to fail.
When I try new things I try to remember to have an attitude of openness and playfulness; to experiment and see what happens.

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 9, 2012 at 09:38 AM

yes! this reminds me of the old quantity vs. quality argument about spending time with children. schools want to jump straight to the “meat” of learning and eliminate all the relaxed exploration — but kids need that playful experimentation in order to do purposeful, deliberate work.

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