Lately we have been seeing quite a bit of excitement over ‘failure‘ or ‘welcoming opportunities to fail‘. Nearly two years ago to the date, Sarah Boesveld of the National post wrote an article entitled “In Praise of Failure. The key ingredient in children’s success, experts say, is not success.” Really? I strongly disagree but, like I instruct my students, before we start let’s define our terms more closely so that we begin the discussion with solid and common understanding.
Is is really failure that these experts are describing? Let’s refer to the definition of ‘failure‘ in the Oxford online and dictionary.
- Lack of success
- The action or state of not functioning.
- The neglect or omission of expected or required action
When a child is learning to play the flute and they miss one note in a song, is that failure? Are they then not successful at all? Failure, as defined above, can be reasonably inferred to mean zero gain from the effort. When we fail, therefore, we earn nothing, we gain nothing, and there is no learning. Is this a virtue that we want our children to adopt? I think not.
What I do think is this, when people use the ‘failure’ jargon they have stopped short of really considering the value of the word and its implications. In all of the articles that I have read where the word failure is used, and it is applied enthusiastically, I see the word ‘iterate’ as being far more accurate and precise.
We want to teach kids to take brave steps forward knowing that they may stumble or even fall and give them the skills and confidence to analyze what happened for what went well, what caused the stumble, and how they can improve as they boldly make another attempt. This is iteration. Again from Oxford online; iterate is defined as to “(m)ake repeated use of a mathematical or computational procedure, applying it each time to the result of the previous application” In this definition critical thinking and decision making is the computational procedure and the previous application is each time the flutist attempts a song or a new note.
Iteration is the courage to start something, anything, knowing that the desired result is not necessarily attaining the goal but that through each attempt one can learn how to reach your objective more effectively and efficiently. Through this process you may find that your confidence climbs higher and higher and your ambitions reach further and further.
When we teach our children that failure is good we normalize apathy and minimize the importance of critical thinking. Additionally, the iterative philosophy innately fosters the curiosity that drives us to get up, brush ourselves off, think about the process, and take another shot at it, only this time using what worked and replacing what didn’t with some innovation.
At IteratED we model iteration in everything we do. It is how we stay relevant and resilient. An example of this is that we say, “(a) good question is the right answer.” We know that our students are more knowledgeable than ever and our confidence in their capacity to think critically is even brought out in the subtleties of language. When we ask a question students may reply with an answer or they may say, “I’m not sure.” “I don’t know” (IDK) has been removed given the fact that we want to encourage thinking on and around a given question. IDK is a failure statement but “I’m not sure” opens doors of possibility, conversation, collaboration, and problem solving. Can anyone else add information to the query? Where can we find more clues? What do we already know that could help us triangulate a strong educated guess? This is how we promote the iterating mindset in our organization.
Thanks for reading and please do feel free to comment and join the conversation.
Apathy is the residue of failure just as wonder is the blossom of iteration.
Addendum reposted 15/10/15 from PEAKxSchool Facebook Page.
“#Failure is a term that gets used quite often without much thought into what it really means; failure is defined as zero gain. We believe that what is intended is #Iteration, the process by which each attempt renders new information that can be applied for greater success in each subsequent cycle.
Iteration has also been described as failing/falling forward but that still uses ‘failure’, a negative, as it’s fundamental assumption. Here at PEAKx, we encourage our students to think of the learning process as #Cartwheeling.
We move in cycles of #innovation where every once in awhile we come up to refresh the vision with lessons learned before throwing ourselves back into the process again.
Forget failure and embrace iteration. Because everyone loves a good #InnovationCartwheel!
Have a great day!”