Blog: Bright Ideas

Learning to Fail Forward by Developing a Growth Mindset

"I've missed over 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." —Michael Jordan

Fail, failed, failure—the words themselves conjure up such negative emotions—not something we would wish for ourselves or our kids. And yet, we are hearing that learning to fail is something we should be teaching our kids. Though it seems counterintuitive, learning to fail fast and fail often is something very successful people credit for their very success. So how can we put failure in the proper perspective and help our kids learn to use it as a stepping stone? The answer is by developing a growth mindset.

The Evolution of the Growth Mindset

Our understanding of intelligence and human potential has evolved over time. Here are a few things to consider:

  • An antiquated view of intellectual ability separated the haves from the have-nots: either you were born with ability and talent, or you were not. Based on IQ testing, this fixed mindset resulted in schoolkids being tracked by perceived ability or potential; they were placed onto tracks such as college-bound, vocational and remedial. This controversial practice, though still employed in many schools and districts, has long been challenged on the basis of fairness, equity and discrimination. Personalized learning and flexible grouping with tiered interventions and frequent progress monitoring are gradually replacing ability tracking. Achievement is replacing perceived ability as the criteria for advancement.
  • Harvard professor Howard Gardner expanded our understanding of human intelligence in 1983 when he proposed that intelligence was not a single, narrowly-defined numerical score, but instead a wide range of capabilities. Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences asserts that each individual has a unique range of intellectual capacities, more complex than just the linguistic and logical-mathematical abilities measured by traditional IQ tests. In addition to linguistic and logical-mathematical, his profile includes musical, spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, bodily-kinesthetic and naturalistic intelligences. Human beings can enhance and grow their diverse intellectual capacities through focused educational experiences.
  • Through extensive brain research, we know that due to its neuroplasticity, the human brain can adapt and grow, even overcoming injury and trauma. With practice and repetition, we can create strong neural connections that enable us to do incredible things. So, the power to learn and grow is in our hands and in our heads, quite literally.

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

Stanford professor and psychologist Carol Dweck has written extensively about the growth mindset—antithetical to the fixed mindset; it’s the idea that we can grow and develop our capabilities as the result of hard work and challenging educational opportunities. She warns parents and educators that conveying a fixed mindset to kids severely limits their effort and motivation. If they fail to recognize their capacity to learn and grow through hard work, kids are less inclined to put forth the effort. She reminds us that, “Most successful people had failures along the way,” and if we do not try, we automatically fail.

Thomas Edison, prolific inventor with nearly 1,100 patents to his name, has been quoted as stating, “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  That kind of persistence is rare, but we can impart a small bit of his resolve by encouraging kids to take risks and helping them view mistakes and failures, not as endpoints, but as stepping stones. Like Edison, many of the world’s most successful innovators have failed forward, using failed attempts to propel them to success. Steve Jobs has been called “the poster child for transitioning from failure to success.” He dropped out of college and got fired from his own company before returning to make Apple the world’s largest tech company.

Camp Galileo campers work together on spinner project.

Supporting a Growth Mindset at Summer Camp

Founded on the belief that there is an innovator in every kid, Camp Galileo and Galileo Summer Quest help campers strive for success by putting a positive spin on the idea failure. With summer camp programs based on the Galileo Innovation Approach®, Galileo appeals to kids’ curiosity and creativity, encouraging them to take risks and view mistakes as a natural part of the process. In fact, at camp, we call them “marvelous mistakes,” and from them, a growth mindset is encouraged and cultivated. Kids from pre-K through 8th grade learn to take risks and to fail forward by learning because of their mistakes, not in spite of them. Campers experience a process for setting goals and put forth the effort to implement their ideas. They even learn to reflect on their achievements and their mistakes, since this is where the growth occurs. 

Learning to Fail Forward and Fail Fast

Though as parents we want the best for our kids, we must teach them not only to succeed but also how to fail. Playing it safe will only get them so far, as true and enduring success requires us to take risks, to put ourselves out there, to accept mistakes without fear and to carefully reflect in order to better understand how to change. By modeling a growth mindset, we can help kids understand that failures are an essential part of the process; they advance our success if we learn from them. Draw on success stories like Michael Jordan, Thomas Edison and Steve Jobs. Their successes would have been impossible without a few failures along the way.

Check out these summer camps in your area that cultivate a growth mindset: San Francisco Bay Area, Southern California, and Chicagoland. Sign up for our mailing list to keep up-to-date on our camp happenings, innovation resources and registration information for our upcoming 2019 camp season.