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Should Our Children be Encouraged to Fail?

Should Our Children be Encouraged to Fail?

The only reason I get a newspaper these days is to line the cat litter tray – even then I use the London Evening Standard, because it’s free.

Yesterday was different though as it was Mothers day, and my job is to organise tea, pastries and a certain Sunday paper that’s so fat it will keep the cat happy for the next 6 months. Of course, it’s all a throwback to the halcyon and carefree pre-children (and pre-cat) days when lazing around on a Sunday was the norm.

Back to the newspaper… the one story that struck me was about the Duke of York (aka Prince Andrew, the Queens second son) and why he believes children should be encouraged to fail, and the best way to do that is to plug into the internet and start a business.

Failure allows you to succeed in the future because we are an experience-based learning organism. All animals are. Give someone the experience and they will learn.” ~ Prince Andrew

As it happens, I couldn’t agree more. Starting a business over the internet is indeed a fast and sure-fire way to failure. And that’s the great thing about it.

How can that be good? Well, it turns out that failing, failing fast and failing early is the surest way to success. Ask any Silicon Valley venture capitalist. Of course, there’s a caveat which boils down to: knowing when to cut your losses, learning from the experience, and getting right back in the saddle.

For bonus points: start early. In other words, the earlier you start failing the more runway you have to get past failure, and on to success.

The problem is that our (at least in the UK) education system is still based on the 20th century delusion that there’s a magical conveyor belt from school to university to ‘permanent’ employment. In that illusory world, success is all about fitting in rather than standing out, and playing it safe rather than taking a chance. And that means ‘failure’ is something to be avoided at all costs.

The irony is that playing it safe, waiting to be picked and following the rulebook is probably the riskiest thing any of us can do. Why? Because ‘safe’ jobs are being outsourced, off-shored & automated at breakneck speed.

Instead, we need to be encouraging our kids to stand out, take a chance, and experiment with what might not work. Creativity, innovation and entrepreneurialism are the order of the day. The keys to success (via a fast-track of failure) have never been more accessible or cheaper. And the younger you start the better…

Recent surveys show that while 55% of young people want to start their own businesses, 70% are held back by ‘fear of failure’, and only 14% are actually doing it. We owe it to them and their futures to help them as best we can.

I applaud what the Prince is trying to do with his iDEA scheme, launched today, to help 1 million 16 to 25 year-olds start their own businesses over the next 5 years.

Photo credit: Labyrinth of Failure by Chris Hackett and Eleanor Lovinsky at Flickr