Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Power of the Epic Fail

What is the single most important lesson we can teach our students? I know some would argue a "passion for learning", or "the ability to problem solve", or maybe even "to communicate concisely and elegantly an original thought". 


Another thought occurred to me though that above everything else there is one essential item we should teach our students: RESILIENCY. I've always thought it was important but as I get older and more difficult obstacles pop up in life, my resiliency is something I lean on heavily. I know that I will make mistakes but I trust in my ability to rise again. J.K. Rowling talked about the benefits of (epically) failing and resiliency at a Harvard Commencement speech:

"So rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life."

According to Resiliency.com, "Resiliency is the ability to spring back from and successfully adapt to adversity." Resiliency has been on my mind, particularly the last two weeks. Seeing the resiliency of the OWS movement is a powerful lesson. Talking my daughter through her fear of failing at a task made me realize that I don't "talk out loud" my thought process when I make mistakes and verbalize the lessons learned enough with my children.  Last week, some critics slammed Tim Cook for his less than dazzling performance at the iPhone 4S event. With hindsight, the presentation by Cook and other Apple executives was masterful. They knew that Steve Jobs, their mentor, close friend, and former boss, was dying. Tough stuff. Yet, they rose to the occasion and certainly the pre-sale iPhone 4S orders have proven that Apple is on the right track. Jobs himself demonstrated resiliency throughout his career,especially when he got fired from Apple:

I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods in my life. During the next five years I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the world's first computer-animated feature film, "Toy Story," and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. 
Students are so focused on the right answer. They fear failure. Standardized tests that emphasize only one right answer don't help to encourage our students of the worthiness of failure. This generation of "helicopter" parents  (I'm one of them), are famous for practically scooping up their child mid-fall so the child doesn't scrape his knee. We are missing the chance to encourage our children to succeed by not letting them fail. Make a mistake. What's the worse that can happen? Richard Branson is one of the richest men in the world and is known as much for his successes as his failures. "Being unafraid of failure is, I believe, one the most important qualities of a champion."

 There are dozens of examples we can hold up to our students of the importance of failure and resiliency.

However, I believe that students sometimes block out these examples. So perhaps it is up to us to model failure and resiliency. As difficult as it is to take a risk with our students, it is imperative that they see us talk through our failures so that they can better understand the value of resiliency. Without resiliency, failure can never be success.

"I have failed over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed."

So fail. Even epically. Just remember to get up and dust yourself off.

 “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”-Sir Ken Robinson


  1. Resiliency is king, but we tend to ignore it in ED. I got thinking about it after seeing Jane McGonnigal's TEDTalk and thinking about how gamers harvest failures, using them to power future attempts: http://temkblog.blogspot.com/2011/09/raging-how-empowered-learners-respond.html

    Great post and supporting media... going to use next time I insert a resiliency piece into the career studies course in high school (because they didn't put one in and should have).

  2. Agree with @tk1ng, resiliency is king indeed! It's extremely useful ability, especially for media-persons.

    Thanks for this videos list!

  3. Really like this post, especially the Michael Jordan commercial. 'Grit' (perseverance in the face of adversity) is definitely undervalued, especially in education. I always say if you succeed at everything you try, you are not trying things that are difficult enough.