LILA ~ Learning Innovations Laboratory at the Harvard Graduate School of Education

Looking for content and documents from our Gatherings? Login

Working through the organizational “F” word: Failure.

Posted by

indexJennifer’s ideas made us wonder: Maybe “failure” is the obscenity in organizations that gets in the way of learning? Is curiosity the energy in the tension of learning & performance?   She reminds us that learning and adapting are more useful in complex systems than predicting and planning. So failure is a necessary part of growth, development, and learning.


What moves us through the necessity of failure? Perhaps courage is part of the answer. When we fail but don’t grow we experience shame, rejection, loss of identity, isolation, judgment, etc.   When we fail and we experience these things, too, but also we often have social support, laughter, have models, and have strong sense of self. Courage might be the resource that enables us to move through the emotional content of failure. DW: It seems to me that there are psychological, social, and structural dimensions that could better support us to move through failure. Psychologically, we need to have a strong sense of self, curb the sense of shame and judgment, etc. Socially we need to create connections, lower stakes, increase trust, and support around the actor. And structurally, we need to create time, processes, spaces for the experience to be moved through with others.


How can we design “safe-to-fail” experiments? Need to know your direction, start at the edges be playful, aim for pragmatic, cheap and quick actions.

Harvard Graduate School of Education