Our Schools Aren’t Failing to Teach; They’re Teaching to Fail: Overcoming Our Lessons of Failure

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We’ve been taught that “practice makes perfect,” but that is rarely true. Practice only makes permanent. For practice to make perfect, it must be perfect practice. Did you have perfect practice when you were in school? How about all of those arithmetic problems you practiced incorrectly?

When I was in school, the teacher showed me how to add two one-digit numbers with a one-digit sum. Then, she assigned homework (for practice) that included problems with two-digit sums, or more than two numbers. How could I possibly have “practiced” those problems perfectly when they had not been taught in the first place? Do you recall this being the typical approach of many lessons and textbooks?

Seeking failure is a negative behavior built into classical curriculum designs. Of course, it’s not called that – it’s called “challenge.” But the result of attempting something that you don’t know how to do is frequently – failure, and practicing failure makes failure permanent.

When we think about the endless hours of imperfect practice built into classical curricula, is it a wonder that an entire vocabulary of failure permeates the board rooms of international corporations? The failure habit is so deeply entrenched in our psyche that leaders expect failure. In fact, when they overcome these habits and begin to taste success, they think of themselves as failures instead. Why? Because they achieved their goals – interpreting that their goals must not have been sufficiently challenging. In other words, they miss the feeling of failure.

Results-Based Development offers an alternative methodology of learning based on success. Rather than simply challenging leaders to think critically and expecting them to” learn from their mistakes,” it actually models practice correctly while teaching critical thinking skills to provide leaders with the tools that they need to improve continuously.


Keywords: Results-Based Development, Critical Thinking
Stream: Organisational Learning, Organisational Change
Presentation Type: Workshop Presentation in English
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Michael Gerard Austin

Human Resources (Internal) Consultant, Refining & International Marketing
Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia

Michael has a reputation of generating extraordinary profit across multiple international organizations in diverse industries. He mines and teaches key position holders to mine business opportunities that, throughout the course of his executive career in organizational development and change management, have produced a combined cost savings in excess of $100 million. He has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in economics and taught economics at the U.S. Naval Academy. Michael joined Citigroup in 1987 as a member of their Finance team before moving into organizational development and training where he played a key leadership role as the Vice President of Performance Measurement regarding several major change initiatives as the company grew, right-sized and rebuilt. In 1997, as the Vice President of Personnel Development for Expeditors International, he designed organizational effectiveness strategies for key revenue growth of 233 percent over a three year period for 150 sites across six continents. He has been working as an independent consulting since 2001. He is currently the Human Resources Consultant for Saudi Arabia Aramco responsible for organizational development strategies for Refining operations.
What has been the root cause of his success? He teaches executives how to overcome the negative behaviors of their educational experience.

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