Why it’s ok to fail sometimes…

In the past few years I have been thinking a lot about education and how it compares to the corporate world. In particular I’ve been interested in entrepreneurs and how often the most successful ones seem to have come through periods of real struggle and often downright failure in their professional lives only to bounce back stronger. A couple of months ago I was reading about the founder of Shutterstock, Jon Oringer, and he was describing how he had made Shutterstock such a success (the first company in Silicon Alley, NYC,  to be valued at a billion dollars). When he was questioned as to how he’d achieved it he said, ‘I had failed ten times before and I was willing to fail for the eleventh time.’  Clearly here was a man who did not take failure personally but built upon it each time, kept moving forward and learnt from errors made. I love his mindset and the ability to come back stronger and it made me think: do we do that enough in education?

In education it’s personal…

I know that when an entrepreneur fails it can mean that they let lot of people and other businesses down but there is something altogether more personal in education when failure occurs. If a school leader fails then is it ok? After all if they get it wrong then it leads to children being let down and I think that’s where education becomes intensely personal because who wants to let children down and fail them? We went into education to make a positive difference not a negative one! It is for this precise reason that it is simply deemed unacceptable to fail as a school leader and for the most part I agree with this however, I think that as a profession we are becoming so risk averse and afraid of failing (particularly with OFSTED) that it is inhibiting many leaders from making big calls that could push the learning forward for children in a huge way. If you fail in education as a leader then there is an element of being consigned to the scrap heap and being seen as ‘soiled goods’ particularly if an OFSTED judgement goes against you. We seem to often miss the point that a lot of entrepreneurs inherently get and that is: it’s ok to fail as long you learn from it and the failure isn’t a catastrophic one. Really there are two types of failure. The first type of failure comes from apathy – a leader who has rested on their laurels and become complacent. The second type of failure happens when a risk or innovation has occurred and for some reason, whatever that may be, it hasn’t worked out. By the very definition, entrepreneurs (for the most part) fall into the latter category when failing because they are innovative leaders who are go getters and therefore less likely to become complacent but possibly a little more likely to over extend themselves. They key is that unless you take risks, are prepared to fail and learn from it then are you ever really going to achieve excellence?

A changing mindset…

CC @thinkingIP

CC @thinkingIP

I love this image which was created by @thinkingIP. It sends out a great message and in particular to education. We should set our goals (make them ambitious) and work towards them with the realisation that things rarely go as we perceive they will and along the way we are going to hit many stumbling blocks that we need to overcome. It also shows that sometimes, just when you are about to succeed, you’ll often face your biggest test. It’s important that when we set out to achieve anything we are prepared to fail, learn from it and bounce back. In education that’s a really fine line because we are dealing in children’s lives but it doesn’t mean that we can’t take risks, fail, learn from it and then come back stronger. We just have to build in safety measures to ensure that when we do fail it is in a way that can be salvaged and turned around.



Personally I can accept that I may fail through taking risks and attempting to innovate but what I cannot tolerate for myself is failure through apathy and complacency. That sort is failure really is unacceptable when dealing with children’s lives because it sends out a strong message that you as a leader hold yourself above the good of the children. No one should ever want to fail in that way!

If you’re interested in reading up more on how failure is a key contributor to success then I fully recommend that you read  the book below by Tim Harford. It’s an easy read and really thought provoking!

ADAPT (Book)