Imprinting failure to succeed

“When Arthur had been a boy at school, long before the Earth had been demolished, he had used to play football. He had not been at all good at it, and his particular speciality had been scoring own goals in important matches. Whenever this happened he used to experience a peculiar tingling round the back of his neck that would slowly creep up across his cheeks and heat his brow. The image of mud and grass and lots of little jeering boys flinging it at him suddenly came vividly to his mind at this moment.” – The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe, Douglas Adams

Failure conjures up similar images of humiliation in my own mind. Growing up, both within my family and among my friends, failure was not something to be tolerated but an opportunity to indulge in the humiliation of the offending party.

Now I’m older, if not wiser, and failure seems greatly underrated. Ideo’s David Kelly talks of prototyping as a means of “failing faster to succeed sooner”, while Dave Snowden sees tolerated failure as an important learning tool.

I was disappointed that the group I worked with didn’t ace the Butterfly Stamping exercise at Cognitive Edge accreditation, but I’ve thought about it a lot since, gaining far more insight into the exercise than if we’d merely succeeded at the task we were set and moved on. Understanding the relationships between things helps us better make sense of them than merely categorising them.

As David Weinberger notes in Everything is Miscellaneous: “That was Aristotle’s startling discovery: A thing standing on its own, is what it is because of the connection to other things like it and other things not like it.”

2 thoughts on “Imprinting failure to succeed”

  1. Andy from Workshopshed

    I suppose in the teaching environment you need to distinguish between the failure to complete the task and the failure to learn. It's often the case where those who make mistakes and correct them learn more than those who get the job done perfectly first time. The former is learning, the latter is following instructions. The skill of the teacher is working out which instructions to miss out so that the pupils learn the most.

  2. Richard Hare

    True – from my recollection we weren't given much guidance or explanation, which meant making sense of the exercise as we carried it out.

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