Why failure is good for you, and that’s no mistake...
PUBLISHED: 07:46 12 June 2017 | UPDATED: 13:24 12 June 2017
Don’t fear mistakes, embrace them, says Sharon Griffiths
Failure is good for you. How else are we going to learn? Now there’s even a museum about it.
I know about failure. It took me eight goes to pass my driving test. When I finally passed, the examiner thought I was really a mystery inspector sent to assess how he conducted driving tests. It was small consolation.
No wonder a card stuck to my desktop says “I learned so much from my mistakes, I think I’ll make some more.” On bad days, I find it very cheering.
Samuel West would agree. He’s the brainchild of the new Museum of Failure. Which opened this month in Sweden.
Brilliant idea – it displays lots of other brilliant ideas that didn’t quite work. There’s a plastic bike that doesn’t rust – but wobbles alarmingly; Colgate lasagne, Betamax tape machines, double drumsticks, Google glasses, Coke’s coffee-flavoured drink, McDonalds’s luxury burger, Harley Davison eau de toilette and a Donald Trump board game. Failures all.
Some of the best business brains in the world with unlimited money and research at their disposal got some things completely and horribly wrong. Very consoling for the rest of us.
No surprise to learn that Samuel West is a clinical psychologist and trying to make us more accepting of our own mistakes.
“These exhibits liberate us. If big companies like this can get things wrong it should make us more accepting of our own failures,” he says.
Being mortified by failure is possibly a very English failing. Maybe it’s something about never having been beaten in a war on home soil for nearly a thousand years. We’re ashamed by sporting defeats – though we should be used to them by now – ashamed by business failures and broken marriages.
Americans, on the contrary, have a much more gung-ho approach to failure. Bankruptcy for fledgling businesses is almost a badge of honour, something you have to do on your way to success. American authorities, incidentally, also make it easier for bankrupt businesses to dust themselves down and start again as they accept failure as part of the learning curve.
They have a similar attitude to divorce. They were much quicker than us to use divorce, not because they’re flighty and uncaring but because they’re quicker to accept they might have got things wrong and sometimes the best thing all round is to admit it, get out quick and start again, with luck with some else.
Fear of failure is a terrible thing. For every Robert the Bruce inspired by that stubborn spider, there are teenagers crippled by fear of getting things wrong from trying once, let alone again and again. Paralysing and scary.
Modern education with is emphasis on grades and league tables is producing a generation of very bright, very pressured perfectionists who have no experience of dealing with failure. So when it hits them later in life it hits them very hard indeed. They haven’t had much practice for it.
No wonder increasing numbers of high-achieving schools have sessions of almost celebrating failure,
Recounting stuff that people just couldn’t do or got horribly wrong puts things in perspective. Sometimes you learn how to do things differently next time round. Other times you accept the fact that you can’t be brilliant at everything, or even anything, which is a wonderfully liberating thought. Having a go is what matters.
A baby can’t learn to walk without falling over. It’s a rare person who gets everything right first time.
Einstein said “A person who never made a mistake, never tried anything new.”
So there you are – give it a go.
Meanwhile, I’m off to make a few more mistakes.