Failing in Business Vs. Failing in Education

Yesterday I had the absolute honor of attending Think Tank, a round table discussion of high level leaders in business and education.

The topics were in and around Innovation in Education and many powerful threads came from the event which I will most likely blog about in some future posts.

One particular thread however, resonated with me.


We all experience failure but how it is viewed in Education vs. Business is interesting.

SuccessIn education, failure is viewed as an end point or lack of knowledge.  A lack of ability to successfully complete a task which places your status amongst your peers as less than optimal.  You are an underachiever.

While speaking with one member of the panel yesterday, they stated it very well, “Failure in business is looked at as a successful new beginning to finding a solution to a problem at hand, where failure in school is looked at simply as the end result.”

This is a very interesting point.

When a student fails, they see themselves in a bad light.

They want to give up, walk away, and stop trying.  In the worst cases, they act out or drop out.

Knowing that education is always evolving, identifying this is a good start but what lessons from business on failure can we take and implement in education?

I believe a lot of them.

1)  Embrace failure.  Let’s teach our kids that failure is a good thing.  Yes, you heard me, a good thing.  Show them that failure allows you to test ideas and be more innovative.

2)  Map failure.  In the best companies I have worked with or leaders I have been around, they can all string together or map their failures and how together, they led to a solution.

3)  Expect failure.  I think this one in particular is hard for educators.  Educators are programmed to deliver a set of standards and if done correctly there will be success.  Failure is never expected as a whole.  This truly is the fault of the overarching education system as it only focuses on scores as a measure of success in teaching.  Businesses however always build in an expectation for failure.  Business wants its people to start somewhere and try something because that is where great ideas come from.  They use ‘expected failure’ to design their teams and leaders while additionally aligning the correct resources.  I can say after years and years in the business world, ‘expected failure’ may be the lifeblood of a successful organization.

4)  Celebrate failure.  “Say what Joe?  Celebrate?”  Yes.  Every time we demonize a lack of ability or an idea, we assist in mentally disabling the drive of a student.  Now, I am in no way saying lets go out and throw a pizza party for all the students getting an “F” on a test, but lets surround them and celebrate their effort with an action plan that leads to success.  Successful businesses create a surrounding environment that raises its people up even when their ideas may not be winners.  Look at some of the most innovative companies in the world like Apple, Google, Samsung, Nike, and Facebook.  Especially look at what their work environment looks like.  Its comfortable, fun, and inviting.  It celebrates its people and….their failures if you look deep enough.  Their cultures want ideas and their people are excited to come to work and share them.  Is your school?

I think I will cease beating this drum with this.

We face piles of challenges in today’s education system.  There are no quick fixes for sure.  But can we start, at least, changing the message of failure on our schools?

Your turn, sound off. 


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