Sunday 24 March 2019

Learning from failure

Some years ago, I wrote a post called Blogging About Failure. I believe that we can learn a lot from failure - or, to put it less strongly, from those occasions when things didn't go as well as we had hoped or expected.

Somewhat tongue in cheek, I described that post, back in 2013, as the first in an occasional series.  Well, here is the second.

I am not claiming, of course, that everything else between then and now has gone as well as it possibly could; but there are some situations one cannot blog about, as they involve others who might be identifiable.  And further,  I don't choose to wash all my dirty linen in public...

I am keenly aware that I have blogged a lot, recently, about successes with the Thinking Environment (see posts with that tag for examples), and even with questions about it, at the critical, intellectual level. So for balance, I thought I would describe an occasion a while ago when it did not work as well as I had hoped.

I introduced the approach on one of the year-long programmes I am involved in facilitating, with a view to including some Time to Think in pairs or trios at the end of each day, to enable participants to reflect on the day's learning and decide what to do with it.  But, whilst some found it really useful, others did not.

So what had gone wrong, given how different this was from my usual experience?

I think that the problem lay with me. In introducing the idea, I think I had gone quite quickly, giving only a fairly sketchy explanation, as I wanted to get people into the experience quickly.

This was fuelled, perhaps, by a degree of complacency: this approach had always worked with other groups, so I was confident that it would do so again. So perhaps I was a little too confident, which, along with a sense of urgency, undermined my usual commitment to gain full understanding of, and commitment to, the process before starting.

What was interesting was that afterwards, I asked them to line up in the room, to indicate how useful they had found their thinking session. They ranged from fairly low, to very high.  Then I asked them to use the other dimension of the room, to indicate how closely they had followed the instructions and kept to the rules, rather than simply have a conversation.  That was very revealing: we got a strong diagonal.  That is, those who had stuck most closely to the structure had got the most out of it; those who had deviated the most, had got the least.

Which was valuable feedback: what it suggests to me is that the problem lay not with the approach, but with the way in which I had set it up. I had clearly failed either to make the rules sufficiently clear; or to convey the reasons for following them, at least on this occasion as an experiment, with sufficient compulsion.

So a reminder to myself not to get complacent, but to prepare both myself and then others adequately, if I wish to get the best from a practical session.

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