Let’s celebrate ‘Failure week’ – it will be stupid if we don’t

The idea of a ‘failure week’ to encourage people to learn from it succeeding may have made its first mistake by not calling itself ‘better failure week’, but we will all be stupid if we fail to take advantage of it.

According to news reports, A top girls’ school,WimbledonHigh School, is planning a “failure week” over the  next five days, to teach pupils to embrace risk, build resilience and learn from their mistakes.

Apparently, the emphasis will be on the value of having a go, rather than playing it safe and perhaps achieving less. The headmistress, Heather Hanbury, said she wanted to show “it is completely acceptable and completely normal not to succeed at times in life.”

Ms Hanbury’s pupils achieve some of the highest exam scores – but from Monday they will be invited to focus on failure. There will be workshops, assemblies, and activities for the girls, with parents and tutors joining in with tales of their own failures.

The idea of ‘better failure’ is to deter lazy, sloppy thinking an doing.

I would actually also extend the definition of ‘failure’ to better failure’: the key issue is both trying new and different things but crucially, learning from the experience and adapting any lessons to your new way of doing.

I would also extend the definition of ‘failure’ to embrace ‘failing to agree to mainstream dogmas and views’.

We are living ostensibly in a more tolerant age, with a tolerance marked by some welcome mainstream shifts in social mores on racism, homophobia and sexism, but a downside of greater polarity – a stronger sense of black-and-white/I’m-right-you’re-wrong in any debate or discussion.

It seems our society, I would argue, is in danger of losing its ability to be convivial, and maintain respect for each other, even if we have differing views on subjects. This perhaps caused by faster pace of change, where you have to be Yes/No before you can move onto your next decision, coupled with the nature of modern social media which can accentuate impersonal and vitriolic discourse.

In my book ‘Overcoming Stupidity’ I defined ‘stupidity’ not as being of low intelligence, but rather created by inflexible thinking without asking questions.

I also identified five levels of stupidity in people’s everyday thinking and doing.:

1 star stupidity is when you make a stupid mistake based on insufficient information, or attention to detail.

2 star Stupidity is a mistake which is correct in one context but may be less than optimum or even outright wrong in another.

3 star Stupidity is where you make less optimum decisions based on short-term interests, rather than taking into account longer-term interests.

4 star Stupidity is what I labelled ‘compound stupidity’, where one stupid idea leads to another.

5 star Stupidity – the ultimate stupidity – is repeating any 1,2,3,or 4 star stupidity: the fundamental lesson is to recognise that we inevitably will be doing stupid things. The crucial trick is to recognise, learn from, and go forth and NOT repeat the stupidity – always invent new mistakes rather than repeating old ones!

In his book ‘Adapt’ Tim Harford, aka the FT’s undercover economist, identifies three types of mistake:

There are ‘slips’, or what traders call ‘fat finger errors’ where there is insufficient attention to detail – equivalent to what I label ‘1 Star Stupidity’,

Then there are ‘violations’ – where someone deliberately does the wrong thing (which I would suggest is accommodated by what I call ‘3 Star Stupidity’ – people not taking into account the longer term punishment.)

‘Mistakes’ are things done on purpose but with unintended purposes. An idea might contain what is known as a ‘latent error’ – a problem/disaster waiting to happen. (I would propose by using a criteria between 1 to 5 star stupidity, it provides a better management tool for managing stupidity.)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

So, there you have it. Failure is lurking around the corner.

By not approaching the corner you may not come across the failure; equally you will be stuck, left behind, and maybe miss out on the pot of gold around this, or the next, or the next, or the next corner.

I hope we can make ‘Failure Week’ a permanent date on the calendar: let’s create a meme of the first full week in February as ‘Failure Week’.

It may not work, but then again….

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