Is it ever good to fail?

Episode 17 of Part 1 of our Introduction series: Setting the stage for success.

Habits:  Growth mindset | Positive attitude

Skills:  Accepting failure | Attitude

Description:  This episode questions how many of us have been taught to think about failure. We outline that every successful person has had to fail before reaching success, and explain that to learn anything, you begin as a novice, which makes failure inevitable before you reach mastery. We finish with four tips on how to have a different and healthier attitude toward failing.


How this lesson might be applied in the classroom

This episode explains the importance of learning to accept failure as a necessary step in learning, and eventually mastery. This asks us to consider whether failing at anything is a good or a bad thing, and helps students to reassess their own views on what it really means to fail.

Prompts for classroom discussion include:

  • Do you believe that you have to fail before you can succeed? Why/Why not?

  • Do you agree that the process of learning anything means that you will have to fail at some point? Why/Why not?

  • When you fail at something how does it make you feel?

  • What does that feeling mean for you the next time you try to do the same thing?

  • How do you think our culture in general views failure? Why?

  • What do you think the impact of that view might be?

  • What could you do to think differently when you fail at something?

  • How could you help someone else to think differently about failure in the future?

  • How has your view of failure changed after watching this episode?

  • What impact do you think that change might make in your future behaviour?

Some specific discussion points

Discussion of any literary works, historical figures, or current events featuring prominent individuals offers an opportunity to discuss individuals who have failed in big ways, only to come back and succeed. It also raises the opportunity to question what failure really is – trying and not succeeding, or not trying in the first place? 

Some possible questions may include:

  • Can you think of anyone who has experienced a big failure but eventually succeeded?

  • Do you think of that person as a failure or a success? Why?

  • Is it better to try and risk failing, or to not try if you think you'll fail? Why/Why not?

  • Can you think of anyone who has failed at something and used that failure as a reason to give up?

  • What do you think people could do to help themselves bounce back from a failure?

  • Why do you think it's hard for some people to get over a failure?

  • If you fail at something, does that make you a failure? Why/Why not?

  • If failure is so good, should we try to deliberately fail? Why/Why not?

  • If no, what type of failure is good failure?

Discussing the quote from this episode:

"Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is a delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing." — Denis Waitley

Possible areas of discussion may include:

  • Do you agree with this statement? Why/Why not?

  • How can we make sure we learn from failure?

  • Can there ever be a time when failure is defeat?

  • Why do you think Denis Waitley says the only way to avoid failure is 'by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.'?

Further information on this topic

If you'd like to dive a bit deeper on this topic, you might be interested in watching:


Keith Peters – Our Schools Should Teach Kids to Fail.

Diana Laufenberg – How to Learn? From Mistakes.

Sarah Lewis – Embrace the Near Win.


Or you might like to read:

The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery.
by Sarah Lewis, 2014.

Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure.
by Tim Harford, 2011.

Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success. 
by John C. Maxwell, 2007.

Please let us know how we could improve this episode?

We're always keen to hear how our work can be improved. If you can think of anything we can do to improve either the delivery of our content, the content itself, the exercises, or our guides to how the lesson can be applied in the classroom, please let us know.