Failing is for Everyone

The world of entrepreneurs is running hot these days. Innovation is at the heart of entrepreneurship and to be successful that innovation must fill a need. Successful innovators identify a problem to solve.  Examples: Venmo, an electronic wallet app (Wouldn’t it be great if, after a shared dinner, we could pay each other back through our phones?), Tinder, a quick dating app (Wouldn’t it be easier to just hook up with people without all the requirements of on-line dating?), or Teachley, an EdTech company basing programs on cognitive science (How can teachers use app data to make faster, better decisions about student learning needs?).

Entrepreneurs know that they should “fail fast” because it’s a waste of time and money working on something that ultimately is not going to succeed. Entrepreneurs work fast, hard, and cheaply to create basic prototypes called MVP’s (Minimally Viable Products) that they can try out on friends, family, and market segments to find out quickly: Is this a product that people want? Will this work? How can I make it better? The product may or may not turn out to be something to pursue.

To an entrepreneur, failure is part of the process, often a badge of honor. Many successful entrepreneurs include “I failed X times and I learned from my failures” in their speeches to help motivate others. Success follows from failure if you are able to accept failure and learn from it.

Learning is a personal process of innovation. When you learn, you encounter, try out, and adapt new knowledge and ways of thinking. So why are students punished for failure: bad grades, not getting a diploma, embarrassment. Those who fail consistently often develop a form of learned helplessness: Psychologists have found that if people fail enough times without understanding, they will just give up trying. School for many children is a dead end of failing or a deflating experience of average accomplishment.

How can we turn students into learning entrepreneurs, learning from their mistakes, and trying again? One way is through transparency. We should incorporate ongoing review with students of their learning pathways. Explain how learning A leads to B. When they fail A, suggest other ways to get to B.

Another solution is to make problem solving and hard work the center of learning. Carol Dweck, Stanford University, has shown colossally positive results with children in failing schools by changing their attitudes to a “growth mindset,” a belief that abilities are not fixed, they can be developed through investing time and energy.

In her TEDx talk, Dweck gives an example of a Chicago school where students who fail are given a “not yet” rather than an F. The “not yet” signals that they are on a trajectory, they are on a journey. Failure is not a stop; it’s not a reason to give up. It’s just a bump in the road. Figure out how to get past it and you will keep moving forward. That’s a lesson we all should learn.

Read more on what educators can learn from entrepreneurial perspective on failure in Kathleen Parker’s Washington Post article, “How we succeed by failing.”

2 thoughts on “Failing is for Everyone

  1. We also need more successful people talking about their failures in school, and why that’s ok. It’s very helpful in the entrepreneur community, and could help here as well.

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