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Friday, 14 March 2014

Failure is NOT good, great or particularly inspiring

I’ve been reading a lot of tweets this week celebrating failure. I even posted one myself. And yet, I actually don't like failure.

Consider -

Example: You are running along a city rooftop and there, in front of you, is the gap between two buildings. You leap across because you believe in the power of failure. You fall. You fail because you didn’t have what it takes to be successful in that situation.

Example: A trusted friend is persistent. "You can do this!" Reluctantly you agree to try. You fail. You fail because you were right. You weren't ready.

Example: You take your new car on a road trip. You are thrilled to be out on the road testing its limits. You fail to notice the slight pulling to the right. Suddenly you are off the road and into the ditch. You succeed in destroying your new car. The nuances of success eluded you. Next time you'll pay attention to the signals. You didn't know. You didn't know enough to be successful.

We usually take risks when we are expecting to succeed. Or we do something that we don’t realize is a risk; it is simply the next step. Malcolm Gladwell of the New Yorker, quoting economist Albert O. Hirschman’s analysis writes, “They [people] are apt to take on and plunge into new tasks because of the erroneously presumed absence of a challenge—because the task looks easier and more manageable than it will turn out to be.” Gladwell goes on to say, “The entrepreneur takes risks but does not see himself as a risk-taker, because he operates under the useful delusion that what he’s attempting is not risky. Then...people discover the truth—and, because it is too late to turn back, they’re forced to finish the job.”

Perhaps the people who love failure actually love something else. Maybe they love…

The power of vision
The power of personal goals
The power of innate talent
The power of persistence
The power of specific feedback
The power of good teaching and coaching
The power of knowing enough to be within reach of success
The power of choice
The power of preparation
The power of audacity
Or perhaps it is simply success that they love.

Failure that occurs when one is within reach of success is totally different than other kinds of failure. 

Failure – and risk taking – is so difficult in a classroom because it is IMPOSSIBLE to manage it for someone else. Setting someone else up to “take a risk” on our terms – our assigned task, test, or challenge – is dangerous for learners and our relationship with them.

So I’m left wondering… Do we actually celebrate failure? Or do we celebrate the success that arises after failure? If so, are we actually celebrating something else… persistence, practice, vision, talent, and guts?


  1. Hi Anne, I enjoyed your post because I too posted a Tweet about failure. I didn't think of my Tweet as a celebration of failure though - I don't love or even like failure, but I accept is as an inevitable part of living and learning.

    1. Yes failure is very much a part of life... although it is the 'getting up' part of failure that interests me most