Learning Matters: Failure Can Lead to Success

As we dive into the new year with renewed vigor, stop for a moment and take stock of your habits. Are you failing enough? If all of your efforts are resulting in home runs, you might need to play a bigger game, a game based on your powerful identity.
01/04/2015 04:48 pm ET Updated Mar 06, 2015

"You might say that we have PhD's in planning and kindergarten educations in doing." -- Dr. Ryan Babineaux and Dr. John Krumboltz

Do you remember learning the alphabet?

Of course not, but I guarantee that you learned by practice, and that you failed many times before you succeeded.

As we dive into the new year with renewed vigor, stop for a moment and take stock of your habits. Are you failing enough? If all of your efforts are resulting in home runs, you might need to play a bigger game, a game based on your powerful identity.

In Art and Fear, David Bayles and Ted Orland describe an interesting experiment conducted by a ceramics teacher who was curious about the effect of practice on skills. At the beginning of the semester, the teacher divided his classroom into two groups. In the first group, students were told that they could earn better grades by simply producing more pots, regardless of the quality. If they produced 50 pots, they would get an A, 40 would earn them a B, 30 a C, and so on. The second group was told that their grades depended solely on the quality of the pots they produced.

Predictably, the first group got right to it, producing as many pots as possible, while the second group was more careful and considerate of the best ways to make the best pots.

The teacher was surprised when he discovered that the students who made the most pots, the students who were graded on quantity rather than quality, also made the best pots.

You see, the practice of making pots naturally resulted in better quality: the students in the first group became more familiar with the intricacies of the kiln, and the ways in which various positions affected the aesthetics of their pots.

You could say it this way: The students who failed the most, succeeded the most.

Although Thomas Edison is famous for inventing the light bulb, he did no such thing. The light bulb was actually around for more than 50 years before Edison perfected it. He just solved two seemingly intractable problems: the expense and the fast burnout out of the first incandescent bulbs.

Edison's approach was unique. He was not afraid to fail until he succeeded. The number of times he tried is legendary.

"I have not failed, not once. I've discovered ten thousand ways that don't work." -Thomas Edison

What would be worth a thousand failures to you? What will you keep working on, no matter how many times you must try to succeed? If you don't have an answer, it's time to engage in some introspection. It's time to find out who you are, and let your passions reveal themselves.

You can't predict when your inspiration will happen. This is why it is so important to make sure that you are aware of yourself and what you love. This is why it matters so much that your organize your life around your identity. When you do that, opportunities for inspiration will show up. But if you are living someone else's idea of success, your natural inborn powerful curiosity will be thwarted. You won't discover why you are here. Nothing will be worth trying a thousand times.

And that, my friends is a tragedy.

In Failing Fast, Failing Often, the authors describe the experience of a Tibetan Lama, who stated that he found that the saddest thing about Americans is that they cheat themselves out of the enjoyment of their lives. They don't follow their passions. They often ignore their inner voice when they are drawn to something.

What are you ignoring because you are afraid? If you were born to write, pick up that pen and write badly. If you always wanted to learn ballroom dancing, sign up for a class. If you have an inkling about a project that might transform the culture of your company, follow the example of the greats and instead of thinking about it, try just a small part. Get feedback and try again. Don't be afraid to fail your way to mastery.

When you plan this way, the results are predictable, because you're using real world feedback as guidance for what's next.

And don't wait for the mood to strike or the time to be right.

"Curiosity has an expiration date."-Dr. Ryan Babineaux and Dr. John Krumboltz

If you procrastinate, your reasons for stopping, buried in the inaccessible limbic portion of your brain, will rear up and stop you from not only realizing your dreams, but becoming the from kind of person who is excited about life.

If you know who you are, and you are following your heart, your failures can teach how to succeed. When you organize your life around your identity, and follow the inner guidance that results from thoughtful introspection about yourself and your life, you can trust that your actions will result in eventual success.

It's a good idea to make an exploration of what doesn't work as important as the happy discovery of success.

"I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious." ― Albert Einstein

Make a New Years Resolution to become YOU.

If you know who you are, you can explore the ways to get where you want to go with the kind of self-confidence that is born from thoughtful, continuous introspection, practice and feedback.

I know who I am. I am clear about what I want. I will not give up until I get there. Learning means I don't know, so I must fail until I succeed.

Learn something new this year. Measure your progress by your failures as well as your successes. That will allow for the glorious year meant for all of us. This is the kind of courage that can change the world.


"To live a creative life we must first lose the fear of being wrong."
― Joseph Chilton Pearce