Failure is a good thing

I finally got around to finishing this article in Wired magazine on what our brains do when we fail.  I won’t say a huge amount about it, except that a few things jumped out at me:

1. We don’t see failure as a potential success because we see what we want to see or we see what confirms our beliefs.  When things go wrong, we have a hypothesis, a theory about what was supposed to happen.  When our prediction turns out to be wrong, we think we failed instead of rethinking the hypothesis.

2. People who are on the fringes and not part of an inside group tend to see important new things.  The money quote here:

There are advantages to thinking on the margin. When we look at a problem from the outside, we’re more likely to notice what doesn’t work. Instead of suppressing the unexpected, shunting it aside with our “Oh shit!” circuit and Delete key, we can take the mistake seriously. A new theory emerges from the ashes of our surprise.

3. A diverse group of people, those with a variety of backgrounds and no real common language often solve problems more quickly.

I was thinking about these things in relation to the work I do in Ed Tech.  One, educational technologists are often, but not always, “failed” academics or part-time instructors, people who have a foot in technology and a foot elsewhere, making them automatically on the fringe of things.  I was also thinking that a single faculty member who experiences only his or her own teaching probably can’t see the mistakes anymore or can’t see that there might be a new way to do things.  And finally, as a whole, though you might have historians talking to scientists talking to sociologists, a group of faculty is pretty homogenous when it comes to teaching.  So now the question is, what do you do about it?

3 Replies to “Failure is a good thing”

  1. When I was a full-time adjunct, I very much felt that I had a very different view than the TT faculty. I didn’t feel my view was respected so it was just a little frustrating!

  2. I found your blog again on my Bloglines. This post especially speaks to me because at the end of this semester, I will be looking for another job. I have strong ed tech skills and experience training teachers but would like to step away from teaching especially at a small college. Your comment about “always being on the fringe of things” feel like me at this point in life. My husband also teaches at the same college and there are so many things that we see as problems. However, when I was told my contract wasn’t being renewed, I just felt like a failure. If you have any suggestions for a career changer with strong ed tech background, I’d love to hear. Maybe I should think of a more unstructured job. Thanks for letting me vent.

  3. Well, I started my own business, but it’s been slow lately. Partly because I haven’t been reaching out to people and partly because schools just don’t have money for consultants right now. I’m teaching an ed tech class for future K-12 teachers and I like the fact that I’m not committed to being in this job forever. My job had become rote in many ways–the same people came to workshops and I had to teach the same workshops over and over. I like the variety that teaching part-time and doing consulting offers.

    You could try to work in K-12 schools or even business. Or, you could try to do what I did and do everything by contract. Good luck!

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