"Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing."
– Denis Waitley, The Psychology of Motivation
We live in a society obsessed with success. So it may seem strange, but we’re going to encourage you to let your learners fail—again and again. According to a University of Texas study, a new skill "must be culled from a string of mistakes." So, the truth is—failure is the backbone of learning.
Consider a child who’s learning to read. If her teachers make fun of her mistakes or her parents mock her stumbling, she’ll be afraid to try. If she confuses how good she is as a person with how good she is as a student, she might even face paralysis. But, if her teachers make it safe for her to get it wrong, if her parents are patient and encouraging as she tries again and again, eventually, she’ll be reading herself bedtime stories.
FRAME MISTAKES AS LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES
Bill Gates once said, "In the corporate world, when someone makes a mistake, everyone runs for cover. At Microsoft, I try to put an end to that kind of thinking. It’s fine to celebrate success, but it’s more important to heed the lessons of failure. How a company deals with mistakes suggests how well it will bring out the best ideas and talents of its people, and how effectively it will respond to change."
Creating space for productive failure doesn’t start in the training room. It’s part of the everyday work you do with your employees and association members, part of building a culture of learning. When your employees and members make mistakes, skip the dressing down. Instead, push them to look for the lessons within their failures.
TIPS ON LEARNING FROM MISTAKES:
AIR YOUR DIRTY LAUNDRY
Dave Finocchio, CEO of Bleacher Report, says, "I make mistakes all the time, and talk about them openly with people up and down our hierarchy. It fosters a culture where people should feel comfortable critiquing themselves honestly."
Take the lead in being open and proactive about your mistakes.
TIPS ON LEADING BY EXAMPLE & OWNING YOUR ERRORS:
ENCOURAGE EXPERIMENTATION IN YOUR TRAINING
Experimenting takes the stigma out of failure. The point of trying new tactics, looking at challenges from unique angles, or thinking a little differently is not to get anything "right." It’s simply to learn, explore, and investigate.
Evgeny Morozov, author of To Save Everything, Click, said, "Creative experimentation propels our culture forward. That our stories of innovation tend to glorify the breakthroughs and edit out all the experimental mistakes doesn’t mean that mistakes play a trivial role. Without some protected, even sacred, space for mistakes, innovation would cease."
By giving your audience room to experiment when they’re learning, they can move away from a rigid and limiting definition of success towards a mode of thinking that allows for more innovation.
TIPS FOR ENCOURAGING EXPERIMENTATION IN YOUR TRAINING:
EQUIP EVERY TRAINING WITH A FAILURE PLAYGROUND
Just like nailing a sales pitch or mastering a new CRM, failing well is a skill to be practiced. Along with the topic-specific curricula, you can embed training with a little failure practice. Over time, your team will not only learn the latest regulations or ace Advanced Photoshop, but they’ll become skilled at understanding the lesson embedded in their professional mistakes.
Tips on creating failure playgrounds:
There you have it, how to get your audience to learn more by helping them fail better.
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