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Failure and PerseveranceRecently, I wrote about New Firm Creation, and suggested core university curriculum should include it for every student. That post exposed a breakdown much earlier in a student’s education in our archaic industrial system. Pre-university education is unsuccessful in teaching all students about gut, and persevering over failure. Failure and perseverance are core to learning, innovation and general success. Instead we allow bullies to be the ones with gut, and those that fail, we shame and crush their spirit.

We Teach Shame, Not Persevering Over Failure

Think back. You recall the clicks (groups), the popular people and the unpopular people, the geeks and the jocks. This polarization not only exists, it is propagated and even exalted many times by teachers and administrators.  We laud winning, and frown on losing. There are awards for sports, for prom royalty, and so on – but no awards for failure, or learning through gut, failure and perseverance with the application of gut and perseverance to achieve a favorable outcome after many failures.

We measure students based on performance, grades, aptitude IQ and other tests that force students into roles and learning paths that then become career paths. The current system stifles the natural human creative process that thrives on failure, getting back up, using our natural gut feel for trying again.  Instead, we tell kids that “they will get hurt” or “they are not fast enough,” or “they otherwise can’t.”

No-hitter Anniversary

Today is the anniversary of Jim Abbott’s success as a New York Yankee when he pitched a no-hitter against Cleveland. Jim Abbott was born without a right hand. His success is no fluke; he pitched for 4 major league teams in 10 seasons. How many kids in school today are told they can’t, when otherwise they could have? If instead of shutting their enthusiasm down, they were taught to use their gut, learn from the cycle of failure and perseverance and never stop trying no matter how many times you have to try.

The world just witnessed Oscar Pistorius, a paraplegic, competing against Olympians without handicaps. To make the finals was nothing short of miraculous. Even more, it is a testament to what a deep understanding of how gut, failure and perseverance can lead to success.

Edison-level Perseverance

Ask yourself, why are there not more stories of inventors like Edison?  I think it is because our education system structured to build industrial-revolution labor in society frowns on, shuns and even punishes people that fail, or are pre-perceived by teachers and administrators as being likely to fail.Failure And Perseverance

What a terrible mistake for a civilized society. People that think differently, learn differently, and don’t conform to physical standards, aptitude, IQ and standards based testing are pulled aside and ostracized. It’s not hard to find cases where people that thought and learned differently were cut out, and punished. Helen Keller, Steven Hawking, Steve Jobs… and many others. All brilliant and either institutionalized, fired, isolated, or otherwise shamed as non-conformist.

Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, Helen Keller, Oscar Pistorius, and Jim Abbott know no shame in failure. They see failure and perseverance as the process to understand what it takes to succeed and then to achieve it.

How do we inject this critical element into our education system?

To Be Clear

I’m not suggesting that we need a world where everyone wins…, that’s not the answer either.  There needs to be a first place. However, there is a need for other ways of measuring aptitude, and instilling the process for learning from failure. What we have now is not learning from failure, but “shaming” those that fail in the process of learning. One bad test score leads to the next, and eventually, a bad ACT score shames a child into thinking he’s not good enough to learn more and contribute to society. That is what we need to change in our education system.

Imagine a World

Where would we be without the contributions of these great athletes and thinkers who learned through failure, gut and perseverance?  You can easily recall others in the fields of science, medicine, business, and engineering – they are everywhere. Some questions to ponder:

  • How many MORE brilliant minds would we have today if in our education system, we taught Failure, Gut and Perseverance in a positive light?
  • Where would we be if we incentivized failure as a powerful learning tool at an early age in our education system instead of punishing students for failing, and exalting only those that were beautiful and talented?
  • Where would we be if we didn’t classify students who didn’t test well on ACT and SAT standard tests as being limited intellectually, less trainable, or incapable of learning?

Would we have a cure for cancer? Would we have pervasive economic prosperity?  I don’t know the answer.

Systemic Change to Education

However, in addition to my suggestion earlier that we need to teach Firm Creation at the university level, we also need to teach our children at the earliest age that failure is a critical step to learning. They already know it – it is instinctive, until we shame it out of children in a broken education system. Moreover, a critical element to new firm creation and entrepreneurship is to have gut, learn from failure and perseverance in order to achieve success.

Walk through the mall, and next time look at the kids you see hanging out, grade school kids with their parents, high-school age kids with their friends.  Examine what you see closely. Too often, we are forming the next generation to focus on the easiest problems, in order to avoid failure, and the ridicule and punishment that our education system shames students into feeling.

Shame Leads Nowhere

We need this systemic change in education, at the earliest levels so that the learned process is not study, learn, test, and shame. Instead, we need a process that is conducive to using gut, failure, and perseverance, like:  study, question, try, fail, learn, try again, learn, and achieve success. We do approach this at the university level, where the students that have survived primary and secondary education system, know to ignore the shame effect. But that’s too late for so many who have been shamed into lesser contributions to society, as early as grade school.

To Ponder

What do you think?  What if we eliminated shame as a response to failure and taught failure and perseverance as a process that leads to success at an early age. Then, we taught new firm creation at the university level. What effect would that have on the economy? What effect would that have on society in general?

Please leave a comment and share your thoughts with others.

Photo Credits: Stephen Hawking from NASA, public domain. Oscar Pistorius, Nick Webb, via Flickr.

2 Responses to Strengthen Perseverance In Time Of Failure, Never Teach Shame

  1. […] Recently, Andrew Stein wrote about New Firm Creation, and suggested core university curriculum should include it for every student. That post exposed a breakdown much earlier in a student’s education in our a…  […]

  2. Navida Stein says:

    Shame is such a powerful emotion. The nature of shame is to render one invisible and speechless. When we feel shame, we want to disappear. Having learning – which involves trial and error, success & failure – be so easily linked to shame destroys potential. As an educator, I’ve seen this learning/shame cycle happen in kindergarten! As the Japanese proverb says: “Fall down seven times, get up eight!” That’s what we need to teach! Thanks for the post Andrew.

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