In February of 2021, the Texas power grid was within minutes of total failure because of high demand in response to unusually cold weather. Most Texans went without power for some period of time — many suffered in the dark and cold for days. Some also lost access to water. Hundreds died. The following winter did not provide a true test of the grid infrastructure — but a very hot summer could. Texas Standard listener Katy Manck requested this poem.
Failure is a word that carries a lot of baggage, arousing emotional responses that we’d usually rather avoid. But what about success? Why does the thought of success conjure images and feelings of comfort and satisfaction?
In the very first episode of KUT’s podcast “Higher Ed,” Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger and KUT’s Jennifer Stayton talked about the importance of failure to learning. Has any thinking changed about that concept in the past five years?
Ed says he has greater clarity now than he had five years ago about one aspect of effective failure. He says he better understands the difference between just bouncing back from failure and actually learning from it.
“It’s not the mistake, it’s what comes next,” says Ed. “If you make a mistake and say ‘well, that didn’t work; I’m going to try something else,’ that’s tenacity, which is fantastic and perseverance, which is wonderful. But it’s not effective failure.”
So what exactly is effective failure?
“It’s stopping and it’s holding that attempt that didn’t work, ” says Ed. “And instead of doing the cultural norm, which is to pretend it didn’t happen and sweep it under the rug…instead of focusing on perfection, focus on the process.”
Ed believes that what makes a failure “effective” is the evaluation that follows.
“You hold that failed attempt in your mind until you have an epiphany, until you have an insight,” suggests Ed. “Until you see something that was there but you hadn’t seen before. And then you can dismiss it, let it go and do something else.”
And Ed says that “letting go” is crucial to the process so that people do not get stuck wallowing in their failures.
“That letting go… can be challenging for some people who do not want to let go and who say ‘see, I’m not good at that; I can’t do it,’ ” Ed points out. “But instead … the letting go is just as important as the learning.”
Listen to the entire episode to hear more about incorporating effective failure into daily life and learning. That opportunity may present itself before the episode even ends (depending on the solution to last episode’s puzzler about art with matchsticks!).
This episode was recorded on Oct. 22, 2019.
Most people do not necessarily enjoy being told when they are wrong. The formal education experience can at times seem like it is full of those moments – between corrections, grades, comments and evaluations. In this episode of KUT’s podcast “Higher Ed,” Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger and KUT’s Jennifer Stayton discuss ways to correct without rejecting.
Those big, red X’s splashed all over a Math test, or those comments scribbled in the margins of papers, can lead students to focus on the fact that they got an answer wrong, instead of the fact that they have a learning opportunity to master some material. And nasty comments from a student on a teacher or course evaluation may not motivate teachers to do better.
“If someone just says too much work, or, you know, Burger was so mean I can’t stand him, that’s not particularly helpful” says Ed referring to student evaluations of teachers. ” And even if that’s followed by an actual interesting idea, I might dismiss it a little bit because I see the context.”
So how can students and teachers – and anybody, really – effectively convey ideas for improvements?
Ed has some ideas:
- Keep it about the question, paper, assignment, or class at hand. Don’t elevate the criticism into something of broader scope.
- Keep the situation focused on thoughtful – rather than purely emotion – inputs and responses.
- Focus on what can be learned from the situation.
Listen to the full episode for more thoughts about both giving and receiving constructive corrections and to hear the solution to the puzzler about the digits of our left hand. Still trying to multiply the number of left hand digits of everyone on the planet? Turns out there is a quick and easy way to figure it out.
This episode was recorded on Aug. 9, 2018.
What do Texans believe to be the number one issue facing the state and the nation? Some eyebrow raising findings in a new statewide survey, we’ll explore. Plus, one little word at the center of a new debate over evolution vs. creationism in Texas classrooms, we’ll explain. And apocalypse now? The great brick and mortar retail implosion has been predicted for more than a decade. Why analysts think the moment has arrived. And what’ll it take for a new commitment to space exploration? A new documentary shoots for the moon. Also truancy no longer a criminal offense in Texas, but now new charges for chronic class skippers. All that and a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard:
The ups and downs of rewards that praise participation in this edition of Two Guys on Your Head, Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke.
Failure is a word that carries a lot of baggage, arousing emotional responses that we’d usually rather avoid.
What about success? Why does the thought of success conjure images and feelings of comfort and satisfaction. This week, “Two Guys on Your Head” examine how the heights of success and the “training wheels” of failure impact our everyday lives.
We’re wired with a dopamine reward system that releases positive or negative chemical affect in our brains depending upon the success or failure of our efforts. Success feels good, while failure feels bad. So we tend to seek success and avoid failure. It’s simple.
But, how can you determine how much exertion to expend toward reaching a particular goal if you’ve never failed at something? You might just run yourself into the ground trying to avoid failure, but it’s better to let failure experiences happen and serve to help you gauge your efforts.
Failure is a learning mechanism, like training wheels on a bicycle. Our little mistakes serve to build up a framework of experience that allows us to more proficiently navigate our lives.
The fear of failure is a very challenging obstacle to overcome. To some, fear of failure can be immobilizing. When we legislate ourselves rigidly against the negative feelings aroused by the experience of a mistake, we are short-changing ourselves. Failure-driven learning mechanisms are not being utilized because our society reinforces a desire to avoid mistakes.
In this episode of KUT’s podcast, “Higher Ed,” KUT’s Jennifer Stayton talks with Dr. Ed Burger, President of Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, about how important failure is to learning and success. What?! That’s the opposite of just about everything we’ve ever been taught. But it turns out intentionally failing is actually a critical step to ultimate success in learning.