Failure... can you handle it?


In school I quickly learned that finding the right answer was the goal for student and teacher alike. Getting on the track to find the shortest distance between the question and the answer was everyone's goal. To have the wrong answer was the greatest shame and grounds for FAILURE.

I am revisiting that whole concept of questions, right answers, and shame associated with not knowing the right answer. I think we have missed something in our striving to have correct answers.

I have been reading the papers of Thomas A. Edison as compiled by Rutgers University. The compilation includes letters, notebooks and drawings from this amazing inventor. What strikes me about Edison and other explorers is that they are willing to embrace failure and the unknown. In their experiments, travels and writing it is the unknown that drives them. They are continually curious and willing to try options in order to find solutions.

This week I read a letter written to someone in Brazil by Thomas Edison, who was in search of a particular kind of bamboo that he'd heard might help him solve a problem with an experiment he was struggling with. He went in search of its source. Edison had a problem he could not solve. He acknowledged it and used that "failure" to move himself forward; to ferret out a resolution.

It has become politically incorrect to admit that you don't know something. That's just wrong. We teach to the test. And the ones with the correct answer are rewarded.

A new generation of discovery will only occur when we are willing to say, "I don't know." When that occurs, curiosity will be rewarded with the rediscovery of spaces for which there are not known questions awaiting known answers.


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