The failure resume

Schools may like to teach children that getting things right is just about knowing the answer, but complex problem solving doesn't work like that.

The failure resume
Photo by Brusk Dede / Unsplash

Living life successfully these days depends on our capability to problem solve.

Life is, after all, about coming up against a series of interconnected puzzles and challenges; and then working out how to solve and overcome them.

Each one of us will then either solve the problem easily; or we might need to come back to a problem a few times, trying new approaches every time until we eventually work it out.

Unfortunately however society, and the culture which many parts of society has adopted, doesn't see the process of continuous problem solving in this way.

We tend to think of the process of problem solving as incredibly linear and simplistic either achieving success or suffering failure - and failure carries with it a lot of shame and embarrassment.

This way of thinking about problem solving (ie success / failure) is however incredibly outdated. The problems that we face in the modern world are unique and incredibly complex. Finding solutions to these problems requires far more than just clever analytical thinking and logic.

Schools may like to teach children that getting things right is just about knowing the answer, but complex problem solving doesn't work like that.

Our modern problems require creative thinking, imagination, collaboration and tenacity to keep at them until progress is made.

That's why Tina Seelig, Professor of the Practice in Stanford University’s Department of Management Science and Engineering, encourages her students to create a detailed Failure Resume; a full list of all of their failures, as well as what they learnt from each one of those failures.

'I require my students at Stanford to write a failure résumé. That is, to craft a résumé that summarizes all their biggest screw-ups — personal, professional, and academic. For every failure, each student must describe what he or she learned from that experience. Just imagine the looks of surprise this assignment inspires in students who are so used to showcasing their successes. However, after they finish their résumé, they realize that viewing experiences through the lens of failure forced them to come to terms with their mistakes and to view them as a great source of data about what works and what does not.'

Failure is a key part of learning it's an indication that you are taking risks and pushing yourself forward, but for many- how we see and feel about failure is negative (something to be avoided).

The Failure Resume exercise is a great tool to reframe how we see failure.

The key to success is not dodging every bullet, but in our ability to view failure as part and parcel of progress and being able to emotionally recover quickly when it inevitable happens.


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