Is Learning from Failure the worst way to learn?
Is learning from failure the best way to learn, or the worst?
|Classic Learning by Alan Levine on Flickr|
I was driven to reflect on this when I read the following quote from Clay Shirkey;
“Learning from experience is the worst possible way to learn something. Learning from experience is one up from remembering. That’s not great. The best way to learn something is when someone else figures it out and tells you: “Don’t go in that swamp. There are alligators in there.”
Clay thinks that learning from (your own bad) experience is the worst possible way to learn, but perhaps things are more complex. Here are a few assertions.
- If you fail, then it is a good thing to learn from it. Nobody could argue with that!
- It is a very good plan to learn from the failure of others in order to avoid failures of your own. This is Clay’s point; that learning only from your own failures is bad if, instead, you can learn from others. Let them fail, so you can proceed further than they did.
- If you are trying something new, then plan for safe failure. If there is nobody else to learn from, then you may need to plan a fail-safe learning approach. Run some early stage prototypes or trials where failure will not hurt you, your project, or anyone else, and use these as learning opportunities. Do not wait for the big failures before you start learning.
- Learn from success as well. Learn from the people who have avoided all the alligators, not just from the people that got bitten. And if you succeed, then analyse why you succeeded and make sure you can repeat the success.
- Learning should come first, failure or success second. That is perhaps the worst thing about learning from experience – the experience has to come first. In learning from experience “the exam comes before the lesson.” Better to learn before experience, as well as during and after.