Failure, Failure, Failure, Failure, Failure... Success? Part 2


After the previous post on how failure can lead to success, a few people asked something to the effect of, “That sounds great, but how does that work in practice?”

Above is a photo of the emerging “basecamp” for a student initially interested in homelessness. On the right you can see his “User Needs” point of view statement (POV):

“A desperate homeless man in Manhattan who needs to eat and find shelter.”

On the left you can see a sketch of his first prototype solution.

After he pitched his solution to the group, I asked him and his classmates to score his prototype on a scale of 1-10. A score of 10 meant that there was total and complete alignment between his POV statement and the proposed solution. A score of 1 meant no alignment at all.

As you can see, he scored himself a “1” (the large number in the middle of the post-it) and his peers scored him a “1” and a “2,” respectively (the smaller numbers in the bottom corners of the post-it). We talked about why they assigned those scores to the prototype (in short, he created a prototype for an entirely different population with a different need).

“If this were a typical class,” I said, “you would have received an F. And not just an F, but a score about as close to zero as possible. So I’m curious: do you feel like you failed?”


“Why not?”

He paused.

“Well… I guess because I knew that we weren’t being graded.”

“Then how did you feel when you scored yourself and when your peers scored you?”

He paused again.

“I felt like… I was learning something.”

“Learning what, exactly?”

“Either I need to change my prototype or I need to change my POV statement!”

We got a good laugh out of his statement of the obvious, then reflected on the fact that we often design solutions in search of problems, rather than the other way around.

So he learned something not in spite of his “failure,” but rather because of it. From that moment, it would be easier and easier for him and his peers to understand that no experience is ever a failure when they learn something from it.

Failure-as-learning contains the seeds of success.


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Christian Talbot