Learning from failure - a Growth Mindset

Failure is not an option (but it should be) | Tes News

"If you fall down, get back up again," was one my father's favourite phrases when I was growing up, although my understanding of this didn't really get past the literal until I was much older.

But has this philosophy become absent from our classrooms?

Writing in the 1 June issue of Tes, Chris Parr asks whether our obsessive results-based system of accountability has driven failure out of our education system, creating an atmosphere in which young people are afraid to fail.

Have we decided that an attractive picture of results and feigned success is better than embracing the failures it took to get there? Is the pressure not to fail undermining learning, Parr asks, and if so, what can we do about it?

Xiaodong Lin-Siegler, an associate professor at Columbia University, is heading up a new research centre in the US that will try to coordinate research on how failure affects motivation and learning. Her research has demonstrated that high school students could improve their science grades by learning about the personal struggles and failed experiments of great scientists, such as Albert Einstein and Marie Curie.

“Despite the universal belief that failure is the mother of success, my observation is that [Western] schools and parents are doing everything to prevent students from experiencing failures,” says Lin-Siegler.
New Year - new bump!

Turning Failure into Fuel for Success

A new study published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise looked at what happens to us after we fail. The researchers found that experiencing setbacks hurts your self-esteem but has no effect on actual performance.

These findings fly in the face of the commonly held view that failure begets more failure. It’s not necessarily the case that failure at time 1 leads to failure at time 2. In fact, it might be the opposite: It could be the thing that you need to propel you forward to later (and lasting) success.

It depends, however, on how you cope with your emotional response to personal setbacks.

Turning failure into fuel

Failing sucks. The lousy feeling you get after you fail is unavoidable. But it’s this experience of negative emotion that drives improved performance the next time around. It relates back to a longstanding view in psychology called cybernetic control theory.

This theory argues that our behavior is regulated by feedback cycles, like a thermostat: With the rising heat of failure, your brain’s internal governor kicks in to cool your emotions in order to help you be better at whatever you’re doing.

Experiencing negative emotions after failing is an important part of the process. But the kicker is that not all angst and anxiety is going to work in your favor. It’s essential that you steer clear of the debilitating negativity and focus on the emotions that help to turn failure into fuel.

One environment where fast learning saves lives is that of the busy aircraft carrier deck:

When Failure is Not an Option

When things heat up, as during the launching and recovery of planes, the organizational structure shifts into another gear. Now the crew members interact much more as colleagues and less as superiors and subordinates. Cooperation and communication become more important than orders passed down the chain of command and information passed back up. With a plane taking off or landing once a minute, events can happen too quickly for instructions or authorizations from above. The crew members act as a team, each watching what others are doing and all of them communicating constantly through telephones, radios, hand signals, and written details. This constant flow of information helps flag mistakes before they’ve caused any damage. Seasoned personnel continuously monitor the action, listening for anything that doesn’t fit and correcting a mistake before it causes trouble.

A third level of organizational structure is reserved for emergencies, such as a fire on the flight deck. The ship’s crew has carefully rehearsed procedures to follow in such cases, with each member assuming a preassigned role. If an emergency occurs, the crew can react immediately and effectively without direction.

This multi-layered organizational structure asks much more from the crew than a traditional hierarchy, where following orders is the safest path and underlings are not encouraged to think for themselves. Here, the welfare of the ship and crew is everyone’s responsibility. As the Berkeley researchers note, “Even the lowest rating on the deck has not only the authority, but the obligation to suspend flight operations immediately, under the proper circumstances and without first clearing it with superiors. Although his judgment may later be reviewed or even criticized, he will not be penalized for being wrong and will often be publicly congratulated if he is right.”

The involvement of everyone, combined with the steady turnover among the officers and crew, also helps the Navy prevent such operations from becoming routine and boring. Because of the regular coming and going of personnel, people on the ship are constantly learning new skills and teaching what they’ve learned to others. And although some of the learning is simply rote memorization of standard operating procedures, the Berkeley researchers found a constant search for better ways of doing things. Young officers come on board with new ideas and find themselves debating with the senior noncommissioned officers who have been with the ship for years and know what works. The collision of fresh, sometimes naive approaches with a conservative institutional memory produces a creative tension that keeps safety and reliability from degenerating into a mechanical following of the rules.

It is the ability to identify a minor failure, and to admit a mistake with fear of punishment (the Just Culture) that is absolutely key minor failures do not escalate into catastrophes. This is course depends on open lines of communication, attention to detail, and integrity - 100% accountability.

If you look at disasters such as Piper Alpha or the Herald of Free Enterprise, you will notice a number of things. Nobody collected near miss information, nobody had the authority to blow the whistle and shout stop, and things like safety checks were treated simply as rituals. Nobody stopped to challenge minor failures.

Recognising minor failures provides the opportunity to prevent a spiral to disaster, be that a business failure or a major disaster.

Similar threads

Latest Threads