fail forward.

20 Apr 2012 § Leave a comment

I chanced upon John Maxwell’s ‘John Maxwell on Leadership’ website through a friend’s post on Facebook. This article caught my eye and I thought it would be nice to share…

The benefits of mistakes

I recently shared a few quotes on mistakes here. And based on the comments, they seemed to strike a chord for many of you. I believe you can’t have too much instruction on the value of mistakes. So I thought I’d share one of my favorite illustrations on the subject. This is quoted in my book, Failing Forward.

Working artists David Bayles and Ted Orland, in their book, Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, tell a story about an art teacher who did an experiment with his grading system for two groups of students. It is a parable on the benefits of failure. Here is what happened:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an “A,” forty pounds a “B,” and so on. Those being graded on “quality,” hoever, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A.” Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of the highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

 It doesn’t matter whether your objectives are in the area of art, business, ministry, sports, or relationships. The only way you can get ahead is to fail early, fail often, and fail forward.

Fail forward.

I think that’s a wonderful way of describing failure. Too often, we feel like we have to go through life being perfect – to meet the expectations that other people have set for us, be it our parents, family, peers, bosses, or even our own internal expectations.

For some of us, maybe we’ve reached a point where we dare not try for fear of failing. But what this tells us is that it’s ok to fail. It’s perfectly fine if you take longer or don’t even meet those set expectations as long as you learn something along the way – even if it’s something as simple as “I shall choose option B instead of option A in the future“. Personally, I’m thankful that I have a great support system of parents and friends who stood by me when I knowingly took a step towards ‘failure’ (sadly, in the traditional Asian sense, taking some time out from working life is seen as failure, so is having an unsuccessful marriage).

So chin up! The best part about life is that there are just as many opportunities to succeed every day as there are opportunities to fail and learn. And wouldn’t it be grand if your most spectacular success stemmed from the knowledge gained from your greatest failure?

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. ~ Henry Ford


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