Reframing Failure: a lesson from entrepreneurs
If failure is such an essential part of learning and growth, why is this not framed as a crucial opportunity in education?
Failing is a part of life – it happens to everyone, in all walks of life. In the context of new ventures, it can be seen acutely: as many as 90% of startups fail. As much as we shy away from failure, it often holds important truths: it helps us learn from our mistakes, allows us to pivot and adapt, and builds character and resilience. This may partly explain why persistence in entrepreneurship pays off: a study on entrepreneurial resilience from Zhao & Wibowo (2021) finds that a defining psychological trait of entrepreneurs is their ability to learn from failure. So, if failure is such an essential part of learning and growth, why is this not framed as a crucial opportunity in education?
The Outdated Method of Binary Instruction
My background is in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), where traditional teaching depicts answers as binary, right or wrong, with the latter seen as a ‘bad’ thing. When I began programming at 15 years old, STEM was associated with being ‘difficult’ and ‘boring’. The leading software available at the time was Notepad, which didn’t necessarily deliver programming as a creative experience. But as an adult, I turned my passion for STEM into a career. I moved to LEGO® Education, where I learned a way to teach a traditionally binary subject in an exploratory and playful way. SPIKE™ Prime is an excellent example of how students can be engaged in STEM through playful learning. Children are encouraged to think critically and solve complex problems, regardless of their learning level. I saw-first hand that ‘failure’ just meant the opportunity to try again, and that there is an important space to be created in education (and home for that matter), that allow children a safe space to fail and see the benefits that can come with it.
Failure as a Learning Opportunity
There are a multitude of learning opportunities that can be born out of failure, and there is an important opportunity in distilling these learnings for the next generation to understand. Five key opportunities and skills to consider are:
- Failure breeds creativity and provokes us to revise our approach. A LEGO Foundation report ‘Creating Creators’ states that failure is crucial to unlocking creative thinking in children. In fact, ‘iteration’ is one of the key principles of Learning through Play. When all else fails, we are encouraged to try something new and consider alternatives, which can generate solutions we may have never considered before.
- Failure is feedback – it teaches people what does and does not work and encourages us to learn from our own mistakes to ensure we don’t make the same mistake twice, enabling us to learn and grow along the journey.
- Failure can be motivating – As Winston Churchill said, “Success is your ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” Failure can encourage people to work harder, take more risks, and have an incredible determination to succeed.
- Failure teaches us how to be resilient, enabling us to dust ourselves off and recover quickly from difficulties which ultimately breeds courage and builds character. Failure teaches us far greater life lessons than uninterrupted success ever could.
- Failure is not final. It does not mean the end of the road; it can and should be considered a new opportunity and pushes people to be more flexible, to pivot and adapt, and try again.
These valuable lessons can be taken into adulthood, as we see clearly within the arena of entrepreneurship. There are plenty of statistics on how second-, third-, or fourth-time founders are more likely to succeed than first-time founders; in fact, founders with a failed startup under their belt have a 20% higher chance of success next time around. This represents the need to learn along the journey and explain why investors view experience and bouncing back from failure as a hugely positive Founder attribute. It’s a sign of resilience as well as an understanding of what it takes to succeed.
With this lens, we can see an untapped opportunity to reframe failure as a positive – it’s a moment to learn, reflect, and build resilience. Understanding that failure has positive elements that can not only help in core academics, but it can help develop the next generation to become better leaders and builders for the future.
- The LEGO Foundation, Creating Creators Report
- Forbes (2019)
- Forbes (2015)
- Entrepreneurship Resilience