When did you learn how to fail?

I've just been reading (via Nick Temple) Bill Lucas's NESTA article, Learning is a Risky Business. The line that first caught my eye was, of course, "it is smart to make mistakes", but I was also particularly interested in his discussion of risk, which was touched on in the comments on my previous post.

I agree with Bill that "without risk there can be no real learning". Risk of failure is often enough to stop people learning, experimenting, trying new things, and I think a key part of the educational process is supporting people through this. Yet sadly our current education system only seems to reinforce this fear of failure.

Seth Godin expresses the problem eloquently in his book Purple Cow:
Where did you learn how to fail? If you're like most Americans, you learned in first grade. That's when you started figuring out that the safe thing to do was to colour inside the lines, don't ask too many questions in class ...
We run our schools like factories. We line up kids in straight rows, put them in batches (called grades), and work very hard to ensure there are no defective parts. Nobody standing out, falling behind, running ahead, making a ruckus.
Playing it safe. Following the rules. Those seem like the best ways to avoid failure.
The need for risk therefore seems to me a pressing one for all of us. However, that doesn't mean risk is inherently good either. People aren't stupid: we avoid risks for perfectly good reasons.

As Anthony observed in his recent comment here, "ad hoc is fine, but not if people get harmed in the process." The need for risk is not served by recklessness. Dougald's suggestion on his blog is also a fine one: "rather than celebrating not caring, let's celebrate choosing what to care about." In this case, I submit that we can choose to value risk, and also value people's fear of it - and still try new things.

So here is my proposal: rather than managing the risk of failure, why not embrace it? When you do something, ask yourself: if I fail, will I still be glad I did this? That doesn't mean playing it safe, it means enjoying the process, regardless of the outcome. If our goal is not simply to succeed, but also to travel well, then failure becomes part of the experience rather than an unsavoury but inevitable consequence of "progress". And perhaps then we would take better risks, and give more attention to those affected by our actions.

Or to put it another way, if a thing's worth doing, it's worth doing badly