Sunday, March 11, 2012

Life Lesson #271 – The Importance of Failure

What do Coca Cola, Apple, General Motors and I have in common?

                  Yes, that’s right. Failure.

While it might seem like a stretch to compare myself to such internationally successful companies, we do share the common feature of building success from failure. And although my success is clearly on a different playing field, the premise is the same: we’ve all experienced success as a result of failing.
Business Week’s article, How failure breeds success, discusses the relationship between risk-taking and innovation, and the role of failure in the experimentation process. “Explore. Experiment. Foul up, sometimes. Then repeat.
But people are generally uneasy when asked to become comfortable with failure. No one likes to fail.
                  Not adults.
                                         Not kids.

So how do we begin to appreciate the value of failure as part of the road to success?

For me, Advanced Video Production, ETD 879, was where I learned a valuable lesson about failing.
ETAD 879 is an optional course in the graduate program at the University of Saskatchewan. Under the direction of Jay Wilson, this course explores the role of multi-media, in particular video, in supporting learning.
During our first face to face class, Jay presented a challenge, deceptively simple in its request … take a camera and play. Heading outside with a classmate and a Flip camera, I did just that.
And my efforts were atrocious.         

Our class gathered back in the classroom where we uploaded and shared our explorations. Part of the intent was probably for us to use this video at the end of the course and reflect on our personal growth.
First video = Bad. Last video = amazing.
Good idea … except …
There was a group of four guys in the class who clearly had experience with in this area, and their “playing” knocked my socks off! Then we looked at video samples of previous projects and they were stellar. Aiy!
Clearly, I was in over my head.
That night, as I drove home, I contemplated dropping the class. My personal journal reflected my doubts, my anxiety, my hesitation.  

This, of course, was fear – fear of failing.

Which brings me back to my Bert (versus Ernie) qualities – I am not comfortable immersing myself in something without some assurance of success. I don’t like to do poorly at things. While I understand that learning is a journey – a yellow brick road kind of thing - I wasn’t sure that I would be satisfied with the outcome at the end of the class. I wanted to be in Kansas, not stuck in Oz for the rest of my life!
But, I had dabbled a little in Movie Maker and I loved the potential for creativity that this course would offer. I was also excited to have a chance to learn from Jay Wilson whose credentials and awards speak for themselves. I wanted to explore a unique learning experience, and this was definitely offering me the opportunity for hands-on learning. I even wanted to learn from those other guys in the class who already knew so much about video (and I wanted to know why they were in the class in the first place …*)
So (bravely) I decided to accept the challenge and stay in the class.
And thus Life Lesson #271 – The Importance of Failure – was realized
  in techni-colour

In this course, the major assignment focused on the creation of an educational video. Smaller assignments served as stepping stones, focusing on the skills and knowledge we would require to create our final product. Each task was designed to support us as we learned different aspects of the process, but most importantly, encouraged us to experiment, to “play” as we learned.
I took my camera everywhere and like a true Bert, practiced, and practiced, and practiced some more. … in the field, on the air seeder, with my family, at work.
This was a truly authentic learning experience.
And I learned from doing things wrong, from failing. If the sound quality was poor, I tried to figure out how to make it better. When my hand was shaky, I bought a tripod. Bad lighting? Try again. And again.
It’s true.
I was becoming a master of failure.
During the Emma Lake retreat (where the class spent time developing the final product), I spent an entire afternoon trying to get a 15 second opening sequence recorded. I had a picture in my mind of how I wanted the sequence to look, but was struggling with the logistics of making it happen. After the supper break, I returned to the workroom, only to realize that the whole sequence was wrong for the video that I was creating. I decided to ditch my afternoon efforts.
Lost time? Failure?
No. I chalked it up to experience and learning. During the afternoon, Jay had shown me how to set up the lights so they weren’t so “hot”. I practiced using the video editing software, and played with camera angles and different effects. Besides, the encouragement from Jay (and those other guys) reminded me that I was there to learn, not to be perfect.
And so, I started enjoying the challenge of failure.
Well, maybe enjoy is a strong word – but I did begin to understand the link between failure and success. Now, I am not as fearful of failure, and am more willing to take time to learn something that is completely out of my comfort zone.
When I look back at my final video product for this course, I think, “Oh that needs changing. I wish I could have … And that lighting is terrible” (admittedly, I still don’t have a solid grasp on lighting), but I am hooked on the learning. I want to get better, I want to learn more.
By not succeeding, I have challenged myself to continue learning.

So take a chance with me.
And fail.
You may be surprised at what you learn.

*  Note: The guys from the class are wonderful people, who were equally supportive and fun and energizing to work with. They challenged themselves in completely new ways too. They have become part of my ETAD family. Machete!

For more about the value of failing in education, check out this TED talk!

A representation of our learning at Emma Lake.

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