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
How to 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:
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.
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:
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
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!
Subscribe here to get our next classroom resource in your inbox.
Learning from failure is one of the most important skills our entrepreneurial students need to learn. It’s also one of the most difficult to teach.
We can talk all day about running experiments and testing assumptions, but ultimately they’re a waste of time if our students can’t successfully extract learning from failed experiments and invalidated hypotheses.
The trick to teaching failure is that our students have grown up in an environment where they are taught to avoid failure at all costs. They are taught to fear failure.
In fact, many of your students’ previous teachers leveraged a fear of failure to compel your students to behave a certain way: do busy-work, memorize lists, etc.
[bctt tweet=”In entrepreneurship education, we need to change the perception of failure.” via=”no”]
As entrepreneurship educators, we need to create safe places for our students to engage with failures, so they can practice extracting knowledge from them.
As our students develop their failure analysis skills, they will:
Fear failure less – they will realize on a personal level that they can learn more from failure than from success.
Increase their confidence – entrepreneurship is less scary when you know even if one experiment fails, you’ll succeed in creating the foundation for the next.
Take calculated risks – which are prerequisites to thriving in an innovation economy.
Fast Forward Their First Failure
The Currency Testing lesson plan below will guide you through creating a constructive experience for your students to learn from their first entrepreneurship failure.
In our last exercise, your students launched an MVP, without a line of code. (If you haven’t read that exercise, you’ll want to now. Not only is it a blast, you’ll need to know it for this Currency Testing exercise).
Once they’ve learned that they too can launch a product, you’re ready to show them…
Launching the product is easy. It’s selling the product that’s hard.
In fact, it’s so hard, your students will likely fail their first time around, just like most entrepreneurs, which is the point of this exercise.
By fast-forwarding their first failure, you’re going to turn your students from first-time founders, into “serial entrepreneurs” 🙂 After satiating their drive to “build something” your students will realize…
[bctt tweet=”The only thing more fun than building something, is building something people want.” via=”no”]
As your students begin to focus less on what they want to build, and more on what other people want to buy, they’ll be eager for you to teach them problem validation.
The Currency Test
At the heart of this exercise is something called a “Currency Test.” A currency test is simply an experiment where entrepreneurs test if customers are willing to pay some form of currency (e.g. cash, attention, data, etc.) in exchange for a product.
A currency test is a much more powerful experiment than asking customers, “Would you use this?” or “How much would you pay for this?” because it’s forces them to put their money where their mouth is. Where it’s easy for a customer to say, “I’d definitely use that” to a hypothetical product, entrepreneurs will learn how customers really feel, when they’re asked to break out their wallets.
Best of all, the results of a currency test are always helpful.Either the test succeeds and the entrepreneur validates demand for their product, or it fails and the entrepreneur gets to ask what’s preventing their customers from buying, so they can improve their next iteration.
Your students will conduct their currency test using the MVPs they built.
When they struggle to get currency (which they will, because like most first-time entrepreneurs their MVPs were more product-focused than customer- and problem-focused), their experiment will fail. They’ll be wondering why they couldn’t find customers for a product they thought was such a good idea, and at this point they’re primed.
Having experienced their first entrepreneurial failure, they’re now ready to hear:
Why being problem-focused is essential in entrepreneurship.
Why talking to customers before building is the key to success.
The value of identifying marketing channels.
How important marketing copy is.
And most importantly, they’ll learn from personal experience…
[bctt tweet=”We learn more from our failures than we do our successes.” via=”no”]
The Failure Postmortem
After their failures, the lesson plan will show you how to walk your students through the most powerful part of this exercise: “The Currency Test Postmortem.”
In the postmortem, students answer questions related to what they learned about their customers and problems, and about marketing and selling their product. They’ll also begin to see first-hand the value of problem validation and testing their business model assumptions.
The postmortem also will model an approach to analyzing failures they can use in your class, as well as throughout their careers to overcome failures they and their products, teams, and companies will encounter in the future.
Increase their Grit
If you want to change your students’ relationship toward failure, if you want to instill in them the skills they need to not just recover from failure, but thrive because of it, give the Currency Test Lesson Plan a shot.
And remember the entrepreneurship proverb…
Get the Lesson Plan
We’ve created an experiential, 45-minute, Teaching Failure Lesson Plan to help you prepare your students to learn from failure. It encapsulates everything we’ve talked about above plus a few surprises!
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 the comments below so we can improve it!
In a future article, we will provide a checklist for you to plan an experiential entrepreneurship class! Please subscribe here to get that post in your inbox.