Friday, 12 February 2016

What went wrong?

A good few years ago I ran a workshop titled What Went Wrong. The essential premise was that if we are researching interventions that make change happen we need to record and analyse our failures as much as if not more carefully than our success.
However, academia and popular media likes heroic narrative and if failure is recorded it is too often used as a whipping boy. 
The paradox for academia and research is that our business is learning, and any simple observation of human learning will tell us that we appear to be built to learn from failure. 
Perhaps I should turn the title on its head and call it Make More Mistakes. I am sent back to reconsider the quote of William McIlvanney on honour and success. A man who wrote the books he wanted keeping his character true rather than signing a book series. I am also reflecting on Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones with the emphasis she places on practice writing. Most of all I am thinking about our students who make mistakes and sometimes find that hard to accept. Or who are terrified of making mistakes before the event - exam stress, life stress. 
Is academia suffering from a bad case of the Emperors Clothes? We are writing failure out of the story and the cost is progress. Alongside we breed a culture of ungiving arrogance. The implicit knowledge that failure exists and has s purpose makes liars of us all, and out university culture is much the poorer for that lie. 

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