What’s the best mistake you ever made?

Often we remind ourselves (and our students) that we can succeed despite failure, but how often do we think about failure as a key step on the path to achievement?

That’s the idea behind failing forward.  

As we shift towards an economy founded on innovative thinking and complex systems, we need to change how we view failure.  Instead of something to be struggled through, failure should be embraced as an engine for iteration and creativity.  

Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson explained this new paradigm in a 2011 HBR article, “Those that catch, correct, and learn from failure before others do will succeed. Those that wallow in the blame game will not.”

There’s some serious love for failure in today’s business world.  There’s even a consulting firm named Failing Forward.  Their mission states:

Nothing is perfect but it is possible to use our inevitable failures to inspire innovation, and build the collaborative learning practices needed to become more competitive, effective and resilient organizations.

Want more?  Check out John Maxwell’s newest book Failing Forward that emphasizes the power of mistakes – when we respond to them in the right way.

Failing Backward                             Failing Forward

Blaming others                                Taking responsibility

Repeating the same mistake          Learning from each mistake

Expecting never to fail                    Knowing failure is part of the process

Expecting to continually fail            Maintaining a positive attitude

Accepting tradition blindly               Challenging outdated assumptions

Being limited by past mistakes       Taking new risks

Thinking “I am a failure”                  Believing something didn’t work

Quitting                                            Persevering


So you’re thinking:  What does this mean for my classroom?

In a 2011 Education Week article, UCLA professor James Stigler explained, “ For Americans errors tend to be interpreted as an indication of failure in learning the lesson. For Chinese and Japanese, they are an index of what still needs to be learned.” Elementary students in Japan are often asked to work out a math problem in front of the whole class for ten minutes or longer, even if they are getting it wrong; the teacher uses public errors to probe the struggling student’s thought process and ask other students if they made a similar error.

The big take-away, as New York Times columnist Alina Tugend wrote is: “We have to be willing to let our children struggle and fail and make mistakes without always rushing in to protect them or fix the problem.”

How will you help your students fail forward this week?