I’ll admit it; I failed miserably at something this week. After having labored over a presentation, the elements of which I’ve been obsessing about and researching for more than a few days, I found I couldn’t tie them together into a cohesive vision. Without a vision, there was nothing to articulate in the presentation. Result? – failure; and in a way that I found disappointing after spending so much time thinking of ways to tie the elements together, coming up with a theme, and a presentation style. After the apologetic emails explaining the situation, I paused to ask, why am I viewing failure in this way. Answering my own question, some thoughts did occur to me:
- Societal expectations – I feel the key fear of failure is set up early in childhood by society, and indirectly by parents. Society views failure negatively, and is set up only to reward success. This is very unlike how we learn, which includes repeated failure at many levels and when attempting any sort of activity.
- Educational system – just like the society it is part of, our educational systems – schools and colleges is another area where we are taught that failure is not acceptable. In most cases, rather than constructive and remedial feedback being offered, failure is quite literally punished. Individuals who fail are tagged as being ‘losers’, ‘non-performers’, ‘stupid’ etc. Isn’t it strange that a system designed to assist learning cannot account for the simple fact that failure plays an important role in human learning?
- Trial and Error – learning always involves significant trial and error; when viewed from that perspective, failure is just a natural progression towards building a more complete understanding of the task/activity. Each successive failure only exposes strategies that have not worked for the individual, helping him/her avoid the same pitfalls again. This is exactly the sort of environment simulations provide, we should start looking at them as platforms for constructive failure.
- Contrast with games/play – anyone who has played games will be quite clear that failure or rather repeated failure is a part and parcel of game-play. No one expects to master a game at the first go, gamers accept that they’ll be failing several times before any sort of mastery.