Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Establishing a Culture of Creativity by Paying Attention to Failure

“An organization’s language in relation to ‘failure’ is crucially important to creativity.” Andrew Grant & Gaia Grant, Who Killed Creativity?…And How Can We Get It Back
Those with great accomplishments started out at a stage of zero recognition. They began with little, but they reached the pinnacle of accomplishment only after facing rejection and failure. Those who we think have accomplished much, such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates did so, in part, because of resiliency and creativity. It is this same resiliency and creativity that many of us would like to instill within our students. But while our schools often talk boldly about fostering a sense of resiliency and creativity in our students, our will often does not match our language nor our actions.

As Grant & Grant point out, an “organization’s language in relation to ‘failure’ is crucially important to creativity." I would that our actions toward failure matter as well. Our schools have become (perhaps they've always been) places that dislike creativity because they value standardization and conformity more. Those who fail to conform are shamed for their failure and prodded to get back in line. Those who fail to live up to “standards” are labeled as “failures.” In this, our schools engage in “language” and "actions" that reveal where the heart truly is in relation to creativity. We use words like “standards,” “grades,” “assessments,” and “tests” as tools to identify and label failure. Then we often leave students to their own devices instead of fostering the idea that failure is a learning opportunity.

When it comes to our actions, our schools celebrate the victories, and not the struggles. We make the most noise about the wins, and often ignore or minimize the losses. State championships in athletics, scholarships awarded, and spelling bee wins are celebrated loudly and continuously. In doing this though, are we not teaching our students that only “winning” matters because that is what we make the most fuss about? Then, we wonder why our students aren't more creative, and why they fail to demonstrate resiliency in the face of failure.

Let me be clear. I am certainly not advocating the celebration of mediocrity and non-accomplishment, or even celebrating failure. We need to celebrate the wins, the accomplishments and the successes. But we need to pay closer attention to how we treat "failure," with our words and our actions, if we want a culture of creativity and schools where students are willing to take risks. 

As Grant and Grant point out:
“Creative individuals have to be resilient in the face of rejection, self-sustaining, and self-reinforcing.”
Perhaps we can begin to establish a culture of creativity when we begin to pay closer attention to the language we use in relation to failure. But more than that, we can begin to pay attention to how we view and react to both succeeding and failing, winning and losing. It’s how we speak of and react to these that teach our students resiliency, and ultimately foster a culture of creativity we seek.

1 comment:

  1. In a school setting, the disparity of "win or lose" is very troubling. Remind yourself that excellence in grade 5 isn't the same as excellence in grade 12, much less excellence in adult life.

    Making a competent contribution is what almost all of us can expect of ourselves. Striving for our own (current) personal best is more important than being at the top of our cohort. Almost always, there is more challenge ahead as we grow.

    It is always good to make note of an advance of skill in a student. It isn't wise to gush over the "best" student, though. The second, third, fourth, etc. were probably at almost the same level of accomplishment.

    Concern arises for me when a student (or cluster of them) are left behind by the leaders of the class. Leaders, both student and teacher leaders, have the responsibility to keep the class a group, not a divided camp. A good leader student will identify him/herself by being helpful when somebody wants help to stay up with the tasks. It doesn't mean that everybody will perform equally, but that nobody feels they have been dropped.