Why failure shouldnt be a dirty word in education

One of the greatest inventors of the 20th century was Henry Ford.  His philosophy towards ‘failure’ was unconventional, risky, provocative and certainly ahead of time. “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently”, was what Henry thought.

Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently

If it wasn’t for great pioneers like Henry, and their healthy attitude towards failure and adversity, it would be likely that today’s primary form of transport would still be the horse and cart !

Today’s perspective or attitude towards ‘failure’ has changed only minimally according to the CEO and Founder of Dūcere – Mathew Jacobson.  In my interview with Mat, I was able to demystify the importance and relevance of the term ‘failure’, and how it fits into the world of business and education, from an Australian perspective. I also discovered how the academic subject of ‘failure’ is integrated into the curriculum of business education and philanthropic work delivered by Dūcere around the world.

Is ‘Failure’ a dirty word ?

The oxford dictionary defines ‘failure’ simply as a ‘lack of success’ and in a business context ‘the collapse of a business’.  This grim definition certainly does not give the word any justice or any positive re-enforcement.

As a serial entrepreneur, Mat prefers to see ‘failure’ as a derivative of ‘experimentation’, ‘adaptability’, and ‘opportunity’; a critical ingredient in the world of science and entrepreneurship, and any other industry that embraces innovation or disruption.

‘failure’ as a derivative of ‘experimentation’, ‘adaptability’, and ‘opportunity’

(Mathew Jacobson – CEO & Founder – Dūcere)

Theory or Practice ?

It is conventional practice for business education to be taught from a text book. For Einstein however, his theory of relatively (E=mc^2), was put into practice by carefully examining the behaviour of light, the atom, and the universe through Quantum Physics.    His numerous failed attempts were of great interest to his sceptics and the media.  However, his determination and resilience prevailed after 9 years of research, innovation, and repeated failure, and his theory of relativity was finally proven to be legitimate.

The benefit of experimentation and learning from hands-on practice will yield opportunity and success, as it did with Einstein.  It is based around this philosophy that Dūcere implemented an innovative curriculum that has evolved traditional learning from the ‘lecture room’, to a real-world ‘applied’ learning experience with the integrated support of entrepreneurial organisations.

The benefit of experimentation and learning from hands-on practice will yield opportunity and success, as it did with Einstein

Students undergoing their studies take part in projects or activities undertaken by the company including focus groups, research, new product developments, etc. They are encouraged to work alongside business leaders and intrapreneurs within the firm and exposed to real life scenarios where they can witness innovation, the use of technology, shifting market trends, team work, and the numerous challenges a business would face on a day to day.

Students are actually encouraged to experiment and adapt their ideas to real commercial opportunities, as well as develop their skills to best handle set-back in connection with their commercial endeavours within the company.

Courage versus Fear

To be a successful entrepreneur, requires the ability to tolerate ‘the firing furnace’ on a daily basis.  As a child, I remember the final scene of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, where the cowardly Lion is too scared to face the wizard behind the curtain.  Instead, it required the brave Scarecrow to look behind the curtain to reveal the truth behind Oz, and to be freed from the firing furnace.

For me, serial entrepreneurship not only requires courage, but also extreme tolerance to failure, stamina, determination, passion, and vision.  According to Mat, “Entrepreneurship is an incredibly hard and a challenging work environment…. “it’s a 7 day per week job”.   In addition, the art to successfully managing failure also requires having your own philosophy, dealing with sceptics in a light-hearted manner, and having no regrets from failed attempts.

serial entrepreneurship not only requires courage, but also extreme tolerance to failure, stamina, determination, passion, and vision

21st Century Education

There needs to be a paradigm shift in culture and attitude within large organisations that openly embraces innovation, disruption, and even failure. This may include embracing more intrapreneurs who challenge the status quo; those who carry a strong philosophy that long term success within a company cannot exist without experiencing and enduring failure.

If we go deeper into the problem, new-age education this century requires remodelling, with an emphasis focused around re-educating the young at school. Teaching children about ‘failure’ is as important as teaching children about healthy eating, regular exercise, and behaving responsibly within the community. They are critical ingredients for the success of any individual.

This article has been exclusively written by Federico Re for ‘Virgin.com‘ for the January, 2016 edition.

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