Last year I was amazed by a couple of stories that had hit the media about kids who had made amazing scientific discoveries. Jack Andraka, who was 15 at the time, had discovered an inexpensive and accurate test for pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancers. Check out his seven minute video from the TED Talent Search. Another innovation teen Catherine Wong, who was 17 at the time, had created a prototype of a portable electrocardiogram (EKG) that can connect to a cell phone via Bluetooth and transmit the results over a cellular network. As both told their stories it was remarkable how they were undaunted by the trial and error process. They were not deterred by failure or setbacks and they simply kept trying. But where do kids learn not to fear failure and develop the courage to pick themselves up and keep moving forward?
How do we learn how to fail? I know this sounds like a ridiculous question, we don’t need to “know” how to fail because it just happens. We start with a plan or idea and it could be any plan really: to get an A on a paper, to get into a certain school, to ask someone out on a date, or to get that next promotion. We then set in motion actions that will get us closer to our plan: studying the class material, preparing an application, finding out a phone number (I have to admit my dating experience might be a “dated”), or delivering a key project for your boss. Eventually you will either succeed or fail in your plan: maybe you ace the test, you get your acceptance letter, she agrees to a first date, or you get that promotion? But maybe you don’t? And if not, then what happens next? What is your fallback plan, your contingency, or your pivot? How do you pick yourself up and move on?
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