“Learning to Fail with Style & Grace” — SXSWedu 2015

Previously, I shared my sketchnote from this session at the 2015 SXSWedu conference. Here’s a bit of an explanation to guide you through that sketchnote. The session is also available as a podcast if you want to listen along.

Fail with Style & Grace-sketchnote 1In our modern society, we share a widespread infatuation with the idea of effortless success borne out of natural talent. Either you have amazing talent or you don’t, and the talented do not have to exert any real effort to get fantastic results.

In our minds, to struggle comes to mean failure.


Fail with Style & Grace-sketchnote 2


Yet, talented people follow a process to achieve their results — we just don’t usually get to see their process.

And when the process becomes invisible, the results seem like magic.

So, to learn how to accept failure, we need to make the process visible.



Fail with Style & Grace — sketchnote 3Our society presents  us with a false dichotomy, created by thinking “If it’s not failure, it HAS to be success.” Anything less than success is seen as failure.

This ignores the the process of moving from failure to success. How can we make the process more important, especially for students?

Grade the process as well as the result.

Fail with Style & Grace-sketchnote 4


An anecdote of a master violinist with his student shows the beginner is unaware of most of his mistakes. When the master finishes the same piece (masterfully), he says, “I heard more mistakes in my playing than you did in yours.”

Fail with Style & Grace-sketchnote 5


We need mistakes for the same reason you can’t explain how to ride a bicycle — you have to try and fall over.

And you have to try and fail again and again until you finally get it.

No amount of explanation or knowledge can substitute for the process of learning through making those mistakes.


Fail with Style & Grace-sketchnote 6But from the first spelling test students take in school, kids learn two important lessons about mistakes:

#1 Don’t make mistakes.
#2 Hide any mistakes you make.

Rather than seeing mistakes as part of the process of learning, we train them to avoid trying any unfamiliar task where they think they might make a mistake.

Our emphasis on results rather than process teaches them to avoid rather than embrace mistakes and failure.


Fail with Style & Grace-sketchnote 7Too often, we fall for the “math fallacy” — the idea that there is a single answer. Yet, most fields do not have just 1 answer for most questions.

We must learn to accept that uncertainty and the mistakes we make searching as part of how we learn.


Fail with Style & Grace-sketchnote 8Right now, however, the lasting impression most of our students get is:

Mistakes = failure
Mistakes = wasted time

We need to show them how that is not true. Instead, we want them to learn:

Mistakes = the Road to Learning

Failure and mistakes are not only part of learning, they are essential to creative problem-solving. Rather than training students to fear failure and avoid mistakes, we should help them embrace mistakes as part of the messy process of learning and creating.

Panel speakers:

About bullersbackporch

I am a native Austinite, a high-tech Luddite, lover of music, movies and stories and a born trainer-explainer.
This entry was posted in doodle, education, Learning, SXSW, visual thinking and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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