Graduates, remember to fail… or as Beckett said, “Fail Better”

By Mairéad Nic Giolla Mhichíl 

What…Yes I said, go ahead fail. The mood in DCU last week was of celebration and rightly so. One of our Executive Dean’s captured the mood in a tweet, “Lots of suits, heels and proud families…”[@annelooney] and she was right. But after the celebrations were done and you move on to the next stage in your life, please be comfortable with that you will not always make the right choices and that things might not work out the way you planned (if you planned!).

Living in a culture of achievement – sometimes we forget the importance of learning by making mistakes or maybe I should re-word that and say learning by trying. Think of the most natural learners there are, young children, they learn every day by making mistakes. Importantly, these mistakes are usually mediated by family, fellow children and eventually experience. Unfortunately, failure has many negative connontations, but…

The Open University last year in its Innovating Pedagogy Report outlined an evolving trend which they term as Productive Failure. They describe it as an approach and a philosophy which can help students and teachers to embrace failure as part of a process to encourage deeper learning and understanding. Amy Edmonson, of Harvard advocated some years ago in the Harvard Business Review strategies for organisations to learn from failure. She gave many reasons as to why companies fail to learn…as you may have guessed the blame game is up there, but she also outlined those companies such as the creative giant Ideo that use failure to innovate.

Although, we know instinctively that failure is not always bad…(yes we do!) we sometimes react to it as if it was fatal…most of the time it is not, particularly if you engage with learning from it. Just read or listen to any description of some of the most talented people in the world, many of them started off doing one thing, or not getting on and then they move on to do great and wonderful things, using many of things they learned whilst making so called “mistakes”- think Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan or J.K. Rowling. So, have you worked out what failure looks like for you, independent of what society or others expect of you? Pehaps more importantly, are you willing to keep trying to learn from your experiences independent of the outcome? I hope that DCU has helped you to achieve, but hopefully we have also helped you not to be afraid to learn from any circumstance – whether these experiences have been on Erasmus, on work experience, during LABs, in clubs and societies or in tutorials and lectures.

As you put your suit back on the hanger or kicked those incredibly high, high heels under the bed you might remember when a day comes when you feel that you haven’t achieved:

“Have courage, learn from the clouds”


The clouds in the sky gather, but above them extends the Milky Way (Alsop & Kupenga, 2016 Mauri Ora: Wisdom from the MĀORI World).