(#176) Fail Fast, Forward, and Fearlessly

In education, we talk a lot about “best practices”… I propose we get together
and talk about what we have done in the classroom that did not work. 
The “not-so-bright spots.” Not learning from the failure is the lost opportunity.

An understandable inclination pushes us to focus on success. Look at magazine articles, conference agendas, and mission statements and you will find references to “best practices.”  Accentuating the positive makes sense—and it feels good.

But what about failure and “worst practices”? Should we just sweep them from our minds?  Is there nothing to be learned—and passed on from a less than stellar consequence?  Oh, it is almost sport to focus on how someone else failed.  That is the fodder of gossip, rumor, and little-minded people.  (You know the ones. They’re busy whispering in the hallway or behind closed doors and playing the “ain’t it awful game.” Self-serving and fearful.)



The October 2013 issue of Success Magazine (print and accompanying CD) focused on failures. It examined the importance of not only taking calculated risks but also the critical lessons gained from pausing to examine, reflect, and discuss failure.  Readers heard from entrepreneurs who failed—some pretty spectacularly.  In telling their stories, these successful failures hoped to pass along wisdom.

In 2009, FailCon held its first conference. The organizers had found that events they attended in the past pretty much focused on speakers talking about how great their start-up companies were—but never (or at least, not much) addressing what they learned from their mistakes. Lots of self-congratulation. In fact, there seems to be a reticence to even admit failure or have one’s name associated with it.  FailCon decided to change that approach. This year’s website states:

….Sometimes things just don’t go as planned. How can you predict what will
work and what won’t? Well, you can’t. But that doesn’t mean you should stop
trying. It just means you should start exchanging stories of what didn’t work …..
Entrepreneurs need to hear that from each other: it’s okay to fail; it doesn’t mean
you’re worthless. You’re just like the rest of us, learning from making mistakes and
building something bigger next time.



One of the participants in a webinar I facilitated this week worked in her college’s entrepreneurial center.  She mentioned the strategy of “failing forward.”  I have read in the literature of “failing fast” and moving on to the next part of the journey.

Video recommendation for the week:

This does not apply only to entrepreneurs. It pertains to all walks of life. Rather than always looking out the window to fix blame, let’s look in the mirror and see what we can learn from our stutter steps.

In education, we talk a lot about “best practices.”  These are the methods and initiatives that have a proven track record.  They work. They provide a foundation to create a body of effective strategies for success. These are what Dan and Chip Heath refer to as “bright spots.”  These are the easy things to talk about; what goes right; the successes. And we should recognize and build on these. Never take them for granted.

On my campus I have floated the idea to gather and talk about what we have done in the classroom that did not work.  The “not-so-bright spots.” What did we learn from those failures—but more instructively, what can we pass along to our colleagues about what we learned from the failures? Did we fail forward and fast?  This can be a powerful training tool for all faculty but especially the new hires—let them know the “veterans” have stumbled.  And to fail should not be a badge of shame or embarrassment. Never fear it.

If you have to fear something, then fear not learning from the failure. That is the lost opportunity.

Choose well. Live well. Be well—and H.T.R.B. as needed!

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post. Please share it (and any of the archived posts on this site) with friends and colleagues. You also can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. If you get a chance, visit my Facebook page and join in–or start–a conversation (www.facebook.com/stevepiscitelli).  If you have suggestions for future posts, leave a comment. Make it a wonderful week!

Check out my upcoming webinar on student retention for November.  Click here to register now for the webinar.  Or go to my website for registration information.  This webinar is part of the Innovative Educators’ webinar series.

(c) 2013. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.

About stevepiscitelli

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8 Responses to (#176) Fail Fast, Forward, and Fearlessly

  1. Jack says:

    I enjoyed reading this blog post because I could relate to just about all of it. It does, in fact, seem like successful business professionals do not wish to address weakness or admitting mistakes. One of the best things I read had to have been, “Sometimes things just don’t go as planned”, because everything about it is completely true. All plans can not be easily kept, even completing all the needed tasks. For instance, there were courses I planned to have completed during the fall and spring semester. Unfortunately, the course was not available for the spring, which held me behind for a semester before I could move on to the next course. My mistake was not doing the required research before getting my hopes up and making inadequate plans.


  2. Pingback: (#188) A Blogger’s Retrospective: 2013 in Review | Steve Piscitelli's Blog

  3. Brandon Law says:

    I really liked this post! I never use to have a problem with failure. It was always (like most of the speakers in the video) just something that happens. Lately though, I feel I have almost become paralyzed by it. I have been trying to overcome this seemingly random attack, but I am grateful I found this post! Seeing the video and reading your words is a great reminder that, failing is nothing more then a mindset, that can be adjusted or changed.


  4. Lynwood says:

    Excellent site. A lot of helpful information here.
    I am sending iit to several friends ans also sharing in delicious.
    And naturally, thanks in your effort!


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  6. Pingback: (Issue #586) Good, Not-So Good, and Why (x5) | The Growth and Resilience Network®

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