Learning from failure - a Growth Mindset

Yokel

LE
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.
 

Yokel

LE
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.


Cont....
 

Yokel

LE
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.
 

Yokel

LE
I thought this topic would interest a wider range of ARRSErs, perhaps people like @bobthebuilder or @Crash amongst others.

How can we make failure or perceived failure less emotionally and politically toxic so that people and organisations can take ownership of their own shortcomings and learn from them?

Can we start in schools by showing kids they can improve at things?
 

Yokel

LE
This thread needs a bump start, as since this is alleged to be a military themed site, what better than the thoughts of a Chilean Lt Col doing the ACSC in the UK?

Failure: A Practioner's View - The Army Leader - Leadership Advice

Failure: A Practioner’s View

By Lt Col Fernando Garetto,

Some authors say that failure is a key element of learning. Others suggest that leaders should share their failures in order to make their people feel more comfortable with their own mistakes, contributing to the generation of a creative culture. Ed Catmul dedicated a whole chapter of his book, Creativity Inc, to describe the phenomenon of failure within the creative process and how an aversion to failure is harmful for those organisations who seek to develop creative practices.

However, it seems that admitting to or acknowledging failure can be more difficult than it looks – arguably even more so when it comes to the military. As Justin Brady explains in his Harvard Business Review article Don’t Be a Hypocrite About Failure, although failure’s importance is common knowledge, this knowledge is not matched by real examples of leaders publicly valuing failure, especially their own. He explains that

“Every leader knows failure is important and necessary to succeed. Every leader is comfortable citing epic examples from other people… But almost no one will openly discuss their own failures…”

This tendency to espouse the importance of learning from failure, whilst failing to do so in practice, is particularly evident within armed forces. This is for two main reasons: the command culture and the relationship between failure and the loss human life.

...Cont.
 

Yokel

LE
I think learning from failure has the potential to avoid disasters. As the Nimrod Review notes, the loss of Nimrod XV230 was preceded by other events - see chapter 8.

One of the things need is the ability to see failures as such, and to investigate them, and not simply sweep them under the carpet. It also necessitates a policy of information sharing (within security and other constraints), a just culture, and a lack of assumptions that because someone senior said something, it must be right, without any investigation.

One thing I personally note is how many individual decide not to rock the boat.
 

Yokel

LE
A tale of US Navy training woes:


When looking into the Navy’s major exercises, the keywords and themes that kept coming up were traits such as high kill ratios, training one skillset at a time, poor debriefing, and weak opposition.

The structure of training certification in the Navy usually took the form of focusing on individual skillsets and warfare areas – anti-surface warfare and anti-air warfare, and so on. But these things were not often combined in a true, multi-domain fashion. Instead, exercise and training certification regimes often took the form of a linear progression of individual events.

Opposition forces were made to behave in such a way as to facilitate these events. However, a more realistic and thinking adversary would probably employ the multi-domain tactics and operations that are the bread and butter of war at sea. But instead the opposition often acted more as facilitators for simplistic target practice it seems, which is why very high kill ratios were the norm. But more importantly, a steady theme that kept reappearing was that the opposition pretty much never won.

There are so many of these events, so many training certifications that had to be earned in order to be considered deployable that Sailors feel extremely rushed to get through them. And these severe time pressures help encourage this kind of training.

If you are losing and taking heavy losses then you should be taking that extra time to do after action reviews and extensive debriefing to figure out what went wrong, how to do better, and understand why in real war your mistakes would’ve gotten your people killed. The way this kind of conversation plays out is fundamental to the professional development of the warfighter, and it is an important expression of the culture of the organization.

When it comes to debriefing culture within the Navy’s communities you can see a difference in the strike-fighter community, where candid debriefing is a more inherent part of the way they do business, but the opposite was very much true of the surface Navy’s system.
And what is being described here also applies more broadly to how things were done for larger groups of ships such as at the strike group level.


1. Why the difference?
2. How candid are FOST etc? @alfred_the_great




 

Yokel

LE
As this paper notes, learning from failure is often prevented by punitive management and organisational culture. One major issue is that a near miss is categorised as something other than failure, so a rich source of learning is lost.

Tolerating deviance from accepted standards is an example.
 
As this paper notes, learning from failure is often prevented by punitive management and organisational culture. One major issue is that a near miss is categorised as something other than failure, so a rich source of learning is lost.

Tolerating deviance from accepted standards is an example.
I would quibble with your last sentence. Toleration of deviation is acceptable in a strict engineering sense if that deviation from the standard and its effects is fully known and recorded. Normalisation of deviation, on the other hand, is not acceptable, as it tends to lead to an informal redefinition of the standard.
 

Yokel

LE
Well yes, however I was thinking of the Nimrod Review and the way Haddon-Cave Nimrod Review talks about previous (fuel leak) incidents provided lessons that could have been looked into more thoroughly. It also mentions the NASA investigation into the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia, where a 'normalisation of deviance' meant that foam strikes on the structure were ignored.
 

Yokel

LE
Whilst watching the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures with Dr Hannah Fry (and reflecting on my errors) it occurred to me that to become good at something you need to repeat it a lot - making smaller and smaller errors each time. But what about things one seldom does?

@Ortholith you might have something to say about kids not learning practical skills...?
 
Whilst watching the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures with Dr Hannah Fry (and reflecting on my errors) it occurred to me that to become good at something you need to repeat it a lot - making smaller and smaller errors each time. But what about things one seldom does?

@Ortholith you might have something to say about kids not learning practical skills...?
Depends on the subject, but your mind has the equivalent of muscle memory, it surprising how quickly you pick up skills you haven't touched for decades
 
Whilst watching the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures with Dr Hannah Fry (and reflecting on my errors) it occurred to me that to become good at something you need to repeat it a lot - making smaller and smaller errors each time. But what about things one seldom does?
What about that bloke that had never played a piano but trained himself using a paper keyboard. Granted, that is a (so far) really exceptional case but it does show what can be done. He had no auditory feedback whatsoever other than in his own imagination, until he had the opportunity to play a real piano.

Tesla ran labs in his other than conscious mind. He would decide what experiment to run and let it happen in the background, then review it later and try and figure out what was wrong with it and how to improve it. Again, an exceptional individual but rather than write these off as almost impossible for mere mortals, these were mortals after all. They succeeded because they didn't know it was impossible.

Affirmations are a popular technique but affirming that you can walk on water makes no sense unless physics supports that affirmation. Really, you need to define or visualise your goal and what it is you are trying to improve. If there is some kind of reward that may help.
 

Yokel

LE
Depends on the subject, but your mind has the equivalent of muscle memory, it surprising how quickly you pick up skills you haven't touched for decades
Yes but to be successful you need to do the trial and error thing to get back up to speed, assuming that you learnt it properly the first time. By the way 'muscle memory' does not exist, it is all about the brain and neural pathways.

Why do you think performers practice before concerts?
 

StBob072

LE
Book Reviewer
Yes but to be successful you need to do the trial and error thing to get back up to speed, assuming that you learnt it properly the first time. By the way 'muscle memory' does not exist, it is all about the brain and neural pathways.

Why do you think performers practice before concerts?
Just my two pennyworth as a piano teacher, "muscle memory" (or whatever the scientific term is) certainly does exist when training the fingers to perform certain techniques/passages of music etc.

As to performers practicing before concerts, that's probably a psychological thing. The concept of concert pianists "practising eight hours a day" is misleading - they may be doing musical activities, but I doubt they are actually playing the instrument for that length of time!

From my own experience and that of my students, I can defintely assert that "leaving things alone" if struggling with a particularly difficult task, usually works - the "eye to brain to hand" pathway is still working away in the subconscious and it's often the case that when you revisit the task after a break it is easier and more fluent!
 
Bugsy and his belief in the GDR would tend to suggest that learning from failure is not a universal trait
I'm sure that Bugsy will explain the GDR did not fail due to inherent flaws, but rather it was the West that caused it to fail.
 
No charge.


Thankfully the same logic isn't applied to heart surgery.

Working in IT, one of the key differentiators between us and the States I see is that they're not afraid to try, not afraid to fail, but they fail fast. No egos are at stake. If something doesn't work, it's pulled sharpish before significant investments are made, then start on the next try.
To me in IT (UK based) the current industry mantra seems that due process can eliminate failure. The result is paralysis because no-one wants to be the person (scapegoat?) who proves that to be flawed thinking. the paralysis and fear that this instils in management is ever evident by;

- resistance to change​
- ever increasing amounts of bureaucracy​
- paperwork, documentation, sign-off, proof of principle/concept to coat any idea with layers of CYA​
- analysis to the nth degree​
- total embedding into the current operational model/framework before anything happens​
- using the latest fancy sounding methodology to sounds like things are happening​

And this all before a finger is lifted and touted as the way to get things done better and more quickly, but when applied nothing is done better but it sure happens a lot more slowly. That's progress eh?
 

Yokel

LE
Just my two pennyworth as a piano teacher, "muscle memory" (or whatever the scientific term is) certainly does exist when training the fingers to perform certain techniques/passages of music etc.

As to performers practicing before concerts, that's probably a psychological thing. The concept of concert pianists "practising eight hours a day" is misleading - they may be doing musical activities, but I doubt they are actually playing the instrument for that length of time!

From my own experience and that of my students, I can defintely assert that "leaving things alone" if struggling with a particularly difficult task, usually works - the "eye to brain to hand" pathway is still working away in the subconscious and it's often the case that when you revisit the task after a break it is easier and more fluent!
It is developing neural pathways as muscles cannot remember! The only reason to flag this up is because downplaying the role of the brain and the issues caused by neurological impairment may be one of the reasons rehabilitation resources are limited.

The role of psychology - the software as well as the hardware - also gets overlooked. The individual struggling with a task will often experience stress and anxiety, and unconsciously self sabotage.

Taking a break? Minutes? Houre? Days? Sounds reasonable - but what about a complex task you have not done for years?
 

StBob072

LE
Book Reviewer
Taking a break? Minutes? Houre? Days? Sounds reasonable - but what about a complex task you have not done for years?
I should have qualified that. I was really referring to building on an ongoing skill, such as playing a musical instrument or any sort of craft. I'm not sure if the "riding a bike" analogy is true for everyone but I have a new 60 year old student starting next week who hasn't played piano since her teens - so I'll let you know. :)
 

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