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What We Can Learn About Embracing Failure From What We Teach Students

Take inspiration from students to grow a workplace of confident lifelong learners across all levels.

What we teach students about embracing micro failures can fuel growth and resilience at work.
What we teach students about embracing micro failures can fuel growth and resilience at work.

Today’s teachers are tasked with preparing students for a future being shaped by rapidly changing technology and Industry 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution. With it, digital transformation brings unprecedented, and in many ways, unimaginable change. This means we have to be adaptable, be willing to reinvent ourselves and evolve how we live and work. Consider this: most students will end up in jobs that don’t even exist today.

This uncertainty can be scary and overwhelming or it can be exciting and inspiring. Since its founding in 1932, LEGO started with a mission to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow and an ultimate purpose to develop children to think creatively, reason systematically and release their potential to shape their own future. It was only a matter of time before an education division of the company would form.

That happened in 1980 with LEGO® Education, and, in the 40 years since, the company has truly embraced the LEGO values to foster learning through play in schools around the world and build student confidence. This confidence in learning is what we believe will ready students for success in today’s classrooms and into the workplaces of the future.

So how does this apply to employees and business leaders now? We have had to figure out how to keep a 40-year business moving forward and stay motivated through both success and failure. We don’t always get it right (and that’s the point!), but we have learned many lessons along the way. To do this, we look at what we teach students and strive to apply this to our own professional and personal lives as we continue to reach new milestones and grow as a company. Here’s how:

Learn from your micro failures: A recent study shows students avoid subjects where they’ve failed before. Yet innovation in business would not be possible without failure. If creative visionaries and household names like Jeff Bezos, Howard Schultz, Steve Jobs and even Walt Disney gave up in the face of their failures, the world would look very different. The key is they didn’t ignore their failure, they embraced it.

It’s easy to fail, and things won’t always work out as planned. But failing an exam and never revisiting the material isn’t constructive. What matters isn’t the failure itself, but what we learn and how we react to it. This is an important distinction. Just as we want students to learn from their mistakes and try again, I encourage my team to understand why something went wrong so they can move forward. It’s not healthy or productive to place blame, ignore a problem or get stuck on having made a mistake. Recognizing why something didn’t go right empowers people to learn and then take action, turning failure into an iterative process that can ultimately lead to success.

Become a lifelong learner: In education, the spotlight is on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) and rightfully so. To fill the jobs of the future, students will need an understanding of STEAM subjects like computer science, engineering and coding. In fact, this is already impacting companies as many have publicly recognized the skills gap and subsequent need to upskill workers. While STEAM skills are no longer optional, it truly is the combination with soft skills like collaboration, communication and creativity that gives humans the edge in an increasingly digital world.

Students who develop a love of learning view challenges as opportunities to learn and grow, and the same is true of employees and leaders. Think of someone you admire and respect, either professionally or personally, and chances are they are lifelong learners who step outside their comfort zones and challenge themselves. With a diverse skillset and a passion for learning, you are more prepared to adapt to change and feel confident even in the unknown. For people leaders, this means there is a growing need, and justification, to offer more training and professional development opportunities, which can help retain high-performers, mitigate employee burnout and create a positive and inspiring workplace culture.

Instill confidence across levels: Some of the most inspiring and heartwarming stories from teachers are the ones where a student who was quiet and shy or disobedient and unengaged became an expert in a task and from that found the confidence to speak in front of the class or teach other students how to do something. When all students become confident learners, you see more engagement and collaboration. This translates to a workplace as well.

My leadership team and I work closely across levels within the organization, and all employees are empowered to challenge processes, ask questions and find new ways to do things. People have the confidence and support to share direct feedback to help each other grow and the resilience to hear that feedback with an open mind. Failures are handled with empathy coupled with candor. Honest conversations are important for giving everyone, at any level in the organization, a chance to learn and move forward. As we set more and more ambitious goals for ourselves, having confidence and knowing we can work together as a team improves motivation and makes even the toughest challenges achievable.

Build resilience through a growth mindset: Growing pains are called that for a reason.Just as we experience discomfort and pain as we grow physically, the same is true for companies and their employees. While growth isn’t always easy, it can and should push us out of the familiar. The key here is having the right mindset.

Start by viewing success as a journey versus an endpoint or a destination. If you accomplish something and then stand still, you aren’t growing. The goal really is to continuously change – not just jump from one point of stability to the next. Growth comes from pushing ourselves as individuals, teams and as a business. It’s when we find excitement and comfort in the growing pains and challenge ourselves beyond our current capabilities that the magic happens, or what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined as being in ‘Flow,’ and where change becomes a deeply engaging and productive process.

Take inspiration from students who approach problems with creativity and open minds, not complacency or fear. In classrooms, students will find one solution and then keep trying to find a better, different way. By learning through play, they are not only problem-solving, but are also active, engaged and socially interactive at all grade levels. This is possible in business too when we draw on confidence and collaboration to push each other, top-down and bottom-up. As an established brand, this couldn’t be more important for us.

When joining the business, I looked at where LEGO Education had been and where we had yet to explore. Together as a company, we’ve been on a journey the past few years to clearly define our product roadmap and strategy, exemplified with the recent successful launch of LEGO® Education SPIKE™ Prime. With SPIKE Prime, we identified a gap in the market for middle school and a need to make a complete STEAM solution that’s easy to implement for both teachers and districts. We embraced the challenge and then dedicated years to bringing a complete solution to market that meets this need. While the product development process wasn’t without its challenges, we truly put all of these ideas into practice, have celebrated our success and are already looking forward to the next big goal.

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