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The Opposite Of Failure

When I ask School Leaders what the opposite of Failure is, I get some interesting responses.  The most common answer is “Success”.  Being the agitator that I am, I like to challenge this.  “Success” implies an absence of Failure – that what we do works to its best extent and with a very high level of regularity.  I don’t actually think schools are like this.

I think the opposite of Failure is Fear.  A culture that accepts Failure is one that takes risks, innovates and is prepared to improve efficiencies through trial and error.  A culture that rejects Failure will find itself in quicksand.  Your staff will learn that that best way to maintain their status is to not try anything new – to fear mistakes and to miss out on the learning those mistakes come laden with.  Stay still – or they’ll sink!

I encourage you to build a culture where Failure is viewed as a necessary component of Success – and not as a polar opposite.  Probably the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan, said “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Jordan understood that Failure is a Teacher too.  He knew for a fact that placing ourselves in a position where we are likely to make a mistake, is often the only thing that can arm us to make less mistakes in the future.  And any self respecting sports nut knows how wildly successful Michael Jordan was in his career as a professional athlete.    But it wasn’t just as a basketball star that Jordan applied this thinking.  Despite enormous wealth, he travelled the country as a B Grade baseball player, bought businesses, headed up foundations – and many of these ventures failed.  Yet he emerged with lessons for life and work that make him more regularly successful than most – despite the risks he takes.

Your culture doesn’t need to seek Failure, but to merely accept is as part of the learning process.  Through this acceptance you will find a distinct increase in a key behaviour necessary for both Students and Teachers to thrive – Resilience.  Resilient organisations are able to:

  • Create an acceptance of feedback.
  • Create a culture of feedback.
  • Demonstrate that in our school, we bounce back from adversity.
  • Demonstrate a commitment to innovation & hard work.
  • Allow improvement efficiencies through trial & error.
  • Reduce fear and paralysis.

So … now what?  How do you begin to build this almost counter-intuitive “Culture of Failure”?  How can you encourage in your staff more risk-taking, more innovation, more idea generation and more creative practice?  The truth is … you can’t!  Put simply, a Culture of Failure will only emerge within you.  People will not believe they’ll be fine if you tell them to jump over the edge of the Teacher Practice cliff.  YOU are going to need to jump first.

So innovate, try new things, make mistakes, apologise, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, get back on the horse, seek feedback, accept criticism … and then watch.  As others begin to follow your lead you will feel a whole new cultural wave envelope your school.  Others will call it Innovation, Creativity, Collaboration and even Success.  You’ll know that it’s Failure … and it’s spectacular!


Don’t have time to absorb the whole article today?  Here’s the big points …

1) Fear is the cultural opposite of Failure.

2) Failure is a necessary component of success.

3) Failure improves efficiencies.

4) Failure fosters feedback.

5) Failure must be demonstrated, not demanded.


AITSL STANDARDS FOR PRINCIPALS … and you addressed them by reading!

The Big One

Professional Practice 2 Developing self & others.

But also …

PP1 – Leading teaching & learning

PP3 – Leading improvement, innovation & change.

LR1 – Vision and values.

LR3 – Personal qualities, social & interpersonal skills.