Have you ever had a student:
- Pretend to interview more customers than they actually had
- Skew the results of an experiment to make their product appear more successful than it really was?
- Misrepresent why they weren’t able to complete an assignment?
The reason we see the above is because
Students fear failure.
And who can blame them! By the time they get to college, the threat of a “failing grade” has been used as a tool to ensure their compliance for the past 12 years.
Students spend elementary through high school literally being taught to fear failure.
Entrepreneurs can’t fear failure
If there’s one entrepreneurial scale we can teach our students to help them find success no matter where their career path leads them it’s
fearlearn from failure
This is a scale that all successful entrepreneurs have navigated and mastered, learning from the bruises, and emerging more motivated and confident. Our students can learn from failure, and can learn from those who have found tremendous success because of their unique relationship with failure.
Greatness is Forged by Failure
Start by showing your students a slide featuring the following faces they will recognize:
- Elon Musk
- Vera Wang
- Steve Jobs
- You (this is the most important one!)
Ask your students:
- “What do all of these people have in common?”
- Answer: They were all failures before they were successes.
- Oprah, Elon Musk, and Steve Jobs were all fired from their jobs before they became successful.
- Show Elon Musk’s Failure Resume, highlighting the number of failures he’s encountered on his way to success.
- Vera Wang failed to achieve her goal of making the Olympic team in figure skating and failed to get the job as the editor in chief of Vogue (after working there for 20 years) before eventually starting her own fashion line. She’s now in the US Skating Hall of Fame for the costumes she’s designed for skaters.
- Share one of your own failures.
Next, show a slide with this quote:
The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception and response to failure. – John Maxwell
Tell your students that if they want to find or create a job they enjoy that pays well, one of the most impactful things they can do is change their relationship to failure.
Share with them that failure is uncomfortable for all of us, but the difference between being an average and an achieving person is how they take advantage of failures when they arise.
Tell students in this class you will give them the opportunity to learn how to make the most of their failures. The first step towards doing that is to show them how valuable their failures have already been to them.
You’re going to ask your students to be vulnerable and share their failures. The best way for them to engage with this exercise is for you to be vulnerable and share your failures with them. In doing so, you’ll demonstrate the failures are what we make of them.
Tell students that if an experience is too recent, or feels too sensitive to reflect on now, they’re welcome to skip that failure and move on to another one.
You want your students to create a resume, but not a typical resume where they document all of their successful accomplishments. This is going to be a failure resume.
Tell your students that using the following categories as inspiration, they should try to come up with at least their three biggest failures, they have experienced, thus far and their lives:
They don’t need to come up with failures in each category, they just need to try to come up with three failures in total.
To help inspire ideas, share some examples of your own failures with your students.
Here is my example I share with my students – I talk about failing classes and getting denied admission to school, and about failing at work (getting denied tenure), about getting cut from my high school basketball team, and about lying to my wife.
For each of the failures that you share with your students, be sure that you have real impactful lessons that you’ve taken from them.
The reflection and lessons learned is the step you must demonstrate for your students. Don’t languish on the actual failure too long!
Tell your students you’ll give them a few minutes in silence to reflect on and identify their failures.
My Biggest Failure
Looking over their failures, ask students to identify the one that they learned from the most. In other words, the one that would change their behavior the most.
With that failure in mind, ask your students to fill in the bottom half of the failure resume, answering the questions:
- My Biggest Failure Taught Me…
- And Changed My Behavior By….
For example, I share with my students that I learned from my failures to be more thoughtful in my words and actions, which leads me to pause and slow down so I think of others before speaking and acting.
After students have written in their answers, pair them up, ideally with someone they don’t know. They share their biggest failure with their partner, what they learned, and how it changed the way they act now,
Once your students had a chance to share with one another, ask a few to share what they learned from their failure with the rest of the class.
Because students are being vulnerable and sharing sensitive information be sure to thank each person who shares and reflect on what positive things it reflects about them that they something helpful away from their failures.
As you’re early in your class. It’s important to appreciate students for sharing; it will set the tone for the rest of your course.
Failure Will Not be Penalized
Tell students in an entrepreneurship course and in their career path, they are likely to run many experiments. Some, if not most, of those experiments will fail.
We encourage you to determine students’ grades by how much effort they put into their experiments, how well they reflect on those experiments, and how much they learn from each one – successful or not. With that approach, you can tell students they will never be penalized in your class for failing.
Making the Most of Failure
Tell your students the key to making the most of any failure is reflection. Once a failure occurs, successful people take time to identify:
- What failed
- Why it failed
- And understand how they can improve next time
Ask your students to complete the last portion of their Failure Resume. For my example, upon reflecting I realized I can be more successful by inviting my wife into helping me be more thoughtful.
By identifying techniques they’ll use to analyze and reflect upon their failure, for example:
- Talking to someone
- Contemplating alone
Tell your students to commit to themselves that when they face a failure, they will make the most of it by trying some of these new strategies, and by reflecting on the failure.
Get the “Failure Resume” Lesson Plan
We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Failure Resume” exercise to walk you and your students through the process step-by-step.
It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers. Please feel free to share it.
All we ask is that you leave us some feedback on it in the comments below so we can improve it!
In an upcoming post, we will share a companion exercise to the “60 Minute MVP” exercise. This will help students understand why it is critical to engage customers prior to launching!
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