failure, learning, Toby Elwin, blog

Fast Start — Flummoxed by Failure?

Wall Street Journal, Ken Bain, What the Best College Students Do, Toby Elwin

Failure: the new dance that’s sweeping the nation.
Everyone’s doing it. It’s easy to learn, and you can practice almost anywhere.

Fast Start conversation:  Ah, failure.  Happens to all of us; the reason pencils come with erasures.

Intelligent people fail.

Though there remains belief that intelligence is static, the feeling that what you are born with, you have. Neither is accurate.

Successful people fail.

Though an even more ill-informed belief is that intelligence determines success.

However, what intelligent people have studied is how successful people overcome unsuccessful moments.  In success, it is not how you fail, but how you successfully recover, that matters.

The key is your reaction to failure stems from your attitude to learning, not your intelligence.  In Flummoxed by Failure  — or Focused?, posted in the Wall Street Journal, Ken Bain highlights how people’s attitudes help them recover from failure.  Psychologists found people have two alternatives:

  1. Helpless mindset
  2. Mastery or growth mindset

Anyone can change their theory about intelligence, because as failures accumulate, changing your theory on how you recover provides a resilient perspective to your own potential.

Failure happens to everyone, though some lead you to believe otherwise.  Test this theory on someone, ask them if their keyboard came with a delete button?

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Comments 2

  1. Great stuff, Toby. For more on the fixed vs. growth mindset, see the work of Carol Dweck.

    Those with a growth mindset mobilize themselves to do the right thing. The less they feel like getting into action, the more the make themselves get into action.

    As she points out, no one laughs at babies because they don’t know how to talk. They just haven’t learned yet. The adult brain can also learn and become strong at new things. It just takes focused practice. A great lesson for those who believe change is tough.

    1. Post


      Thank you for the Carol Dweck recommendation. I picked up her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success and it really brings a great lens to organizaiton behavior theory that I ardently use Appreciative Inquiry.

      I appreciate that you remind me of the state of wonder that learning is.

      I read a great quote from the Wall Street Journal article from this Fast Start, paraphrased: “I hardly ever use the word intelligence. I think of people as either wanting to learn, ambivalent about learning, or rejecting learning.” – Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson

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