Friday, March 6, 2015

Picturing failure

Our educational system rewards success and penalizes failure.  To most people, that seems right. We want to create successful citizens able to make well-informed choices, vote, hold jobs, raise families, and make the world a better place.  Yes, we do. We want all of that. That's part of why we provide access to education.

But while we have the best of intentions, we forget that the path from here (wherever that happens to be) to success is paved with failure. Individual failure, collective failure, smart failure, fast failure, failure that teaches us what we need to know and propels us further along the path.   Failure is the part of the scientific method that we tend to forget, as testing a hypothesis requires that we be as open to the possibility of failure as to possibility of success when determining what the data actually tell us.

The mantra to fail fast, fail smart, fail cheap is intended to remind us that failing become less likely to hurt us when we embrace it on a daily basis.  The large and/or tragic failures are sometimes quirks of fate; other times, however, they reflect a refusal to fail earlier, when the stakes would have been lower.

Picture yourself failing, learning from the failure, and making better choices as a result. It's amazing how freeing that can be, whether from self-denigration or the equally destructive criticism of the failures of others.