Can you fail your way to success? Yes.
I was reading an article, Giving Good Praise about how to motivate people to work harder to improve their skills, instead of assuming that they “just aren’t smart enough,” which included this (lightly edited for capitalization) passage:
Failure in small doses is good. […] Advocates of game-based learning say one of its strongest attributes lies in a player’s ability to fail and start over without being stigmatized. Students learn as they go, getting better each time they attempt a task in the game. But the current education system leaves little room for failure, and consequently anxious parents often don’t tolerate small setbacks either.
“If you have little failures along the way and have them understand that’s part of learning, and that you can actually derive useful information about what to do next, that’s really useful,” Dweck said.
Well, Dweck hit a bulls-eye. The focus on games and failure and restarting and learning makes all kinds of sense to me.
There was a point in learning to code computer software, where I learned to accept that failure is normal and expected. I mean, I would fail literally dozens, even hundreds of times per day, every day. And each failure brought me a little closer to my goal.
If we think of each modification of computer software as creating a separate entity or “experiment”, 99.9% of those are failures, and the business of a coder is to keep nudging the program toward 100% success – or as close as we can get. They’re not “failures,” they are stepping stones.
Reminds me of an old story about Thomas Edison, who discovered – and eliminated – thousands of ways to not make a light bulb. I discovered many thousands of ways to not code software.
And this willingness to fail and learn and correct and repeat is what it takes to succeed in the STEM disciplines. It is these small failures, and the attempts to correct them, which drive the learning process.
It’s a good article, worth reading, but if you want just the gist, Dweck’s main point was to praise children for the work they do – not in abstract ways, such as “you worked so hard,” although that might not be a bad idea at times – but a bit more to the point where you are praising the method itself.
Any case, when I came to see failure as a natural part and even an aid to the learning process, I lost my fear.
Hat tip to an old friend from Pittsburgh, Lucy Hammond, for bringing this article to my attention.