The Power of Failure

Updated: Jan 31

Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (February 23, 2013)


Thomas Edison is one of my all-time role models. He is most famously known for his invention of the light bulb and without that, our world would be very different today. He also patented over 1000 inventions in his lifetime, which included the phonograph and a motion picture camera. He was a man of incredible creativity and resolve to make the world a better place.


But what I admire about Edison is not what he produced but the attitude he had in producing them. As the saying goes, it’s not just about the destination but the journey. In his attempt to create the light bulb, Edison tried over 10,000 times before he finally got it right. After one and a half years of trying different filaments, circuits and switches, he finally succeeded. That’s perseverance!


When asked how he felt after having failed 10,000 times, Edison replied ‘I didn’t fail. I just found 10,000 ways that don’t work’.


Edison didn’t see his mistakes as failures, he merely saw them as incidents he could learn from. So, in other words, failures can be learning opportunities. Couple/merge learning opportunities with perseverance, there is potential success.


Failure = Learning Opportunity

Learning Opportunity + Perseverance = Potential Success


When looking at parenting, many parents want the most efficient means of getting to their goal. They don’t want their children to fail because it’s a waste of time. For example, if a girl doesn’t know how to put on her shoes, get the helper to put them on for her. It takes a much shorter amount of time compared to having the little girl try. Or if a boy doesn’t know how to use chopsticks, give him a fork and spoon so that he can eat quickly and then have more time for homework. In choosing efficiency over giving children the chance to try, and fail, we are stripping them of the opportunity to learn.


Oftentimes people ask me what I think of ‘Hong Kong children’ (港孩) and the phenomenon of children not knowing how to do things on their own. Honestly, it comes as no surprise when you see everything being done for these children. You can’t expect a child to know how to tie laces on shoes if he has never been given the chance to try, and fail. You can’t expect a child to know how to use a pair of chopsticks if he’s only ever been given a spoon.


So I think the key in educating children is not protecting them from having failures but teaching them to learn from their failures. If we can instill in children the motivation to persevere in spite of difficult circumstances, we are setting them up for success in the future. I have met so many successful people in the working world whom have told me of stories of when they failed earlier in life. But what changed the course of their lives was the perseverance they had even when facing their failure wihch led them to overcome and be stronger.


As parents, we need to look at the bigger picture and the long-term vision for our children. Yes, it’s faster for you to get out of the house today if you pack your child’s schoolbag so he doesn’t leave books he needs at home but in 10 years time, your teenage child won’t know how to pack the things he needs for his exam. In 20 years time, he won’t know how to pack for a business trip he needs to go on. In preparing our children for the future, we need to start today.


I recently had an 8-year old student come in crying one day. I asked him what was wrong and he said that he had just been told off by mum for not being independent and from that day on, he had to do everything on his own. I asked him what that entailed and one of the things included using a pair of chopsticks to eat with – something he couldn’t currently do. The thought of having to do that scared him and he just felt helpless.


So, I pulled him into my office and for the next half hour, had him pick up items with chopsticks. I watched him as he fumbled over picking up pieces of cotton, erasers and paper clips with his chopsticks. I assured him he could do it and we’d take as long as we need until he could do it on his own. After failing a couple times, he finally picked them up. Then the final stage was learning to pick up marbles with chopsticks. Even this is hard for chopstick-using adults! The first time – he failed. The second time, he couldn’t grip the marble. The third time – the marble rolled off. At about the sixth time, he gripped the marble, picked it up and transferred it to another bowl. He looked up at me with his beaming smile and I had to hold back my tears! It was just so moving to see a little boy transform from feeling like a failure to having a proud smile on his face. He was so pleased with himself that he wouldn’t stop – he kept on picking up marbles with his chopsticks, each time with a bigger smile on his face.


The key wasn’t to give this boy a spoon instead of a pair of chopsticks. The key was to give him the opportunity to fail whilst encouraging him to persevere. Every time he failed, he learnt something and because of that, this boy can now confidently use chopsticks.


So give your child the opportunity to fail and to learn from it. There is power in failure – it could be the stepping-stone to success. Look at where it took Edison.



#Perseverance#failing #opportunity #perseverance #keep_trying

失敗的力量


愛迪生永遠是我的榜樣之一,他最為人熟悉的成就是發明了為世界帶來重大改變的電燈泡,更擁有超過一千項發明專利,當中包括留聲機和電影攝影機。愛迪生教人驚嘆不已的創造力令世界變得更美好。


可是我最佩服的並不是愛迪生的發明,而是他的態度。常言道,過程比結果重要。愛迪生在嘗試製作電燈泡時,便嘗試超過一萬次後才成功。一年半以來他嘗遍不同的燈絲、電路和開關,他終於成功了!毅力驚人!


問及愛迪生經歷一萬次失敗後感覺如何,他回答說:「我並沒有失敗,我只是發現了一萬種不可行的方法。」


愛迪生並沒有將錯誤視為失敗,而是看成可以從中學習的事件。換句話說,失敗可成為學習機會,若將學習機會加上毅力,便有機會成功。


失敗=學習機會

學習機會+毅力=成功機會


很多家長在教育子女時都希望採用最有效的方法達到目標,不希望孩子失敗,浪費時間。如女孩不懂穿鞋子,便叫家傭幫忙,因為這樣比叫她自己嘗試更省時。如男孩不懂使用筷子,便給他叉子和勺子,吃完後能盡快做功課。我們選擇效率而不讓孩子嘗試的同時,便剝奪了他們學習的機會。


不時有人問我對「港孩」和孩子缺乏自理能力的現象有何看法。誠然,當看到家長為孩子辦妥一切時,便不會覺得奇怪了。若孩子未曾有機會嘗試綁鞋帶和失敗,怎能期望他懂?若孩子從來只使用湯匙,又怎能期望他懂得用筷子?


因此,我認為教育孩子的關鍵並不在於保護他們免受失敗,而是教導他們從失敗中學習。倘若我們能培養孩子在困難情況中堅持下去的動力,便是在為他們未來的成功舖路。我遇過不少在職場上的成功人士,他們都和我分享了年輕時失敗的故事,而改變他們生命的,正是面對失敗時仍不放棄的毅力,帶領他們克服困難,令他們變得更強壯。


作為家長,我們需要以大局為重,為孩子放遠眼光。你今天為孩子收拾書包,確保他沒有忘記帶課本,的確令你能盡快出門口,可是十年後,你那已經十多歲的孩子將不會懂得收拾考試需要的東西;二十年後,他外出工幹也不會懂得收拾行李。若要為孩子的將來做好準備,我們便要從今天開始。


最近有一名八歲的孩子來上課時在哭,我問他發生了甚麼事,他說他的媽媽剛說他不夠獨立,並要從那天開始自己的事自己做。我再問詳細一點,其中一件事為用筷子吃飯,這代表着,男孩現在根本不懂得使用筷子。男孩想起自己要做的事,便感到非常害怕和無助。

我把他帶進辦公室,並用了半小時和他練習以筷子夾起物件。我看着他摸索如何用筷子夾起棉花、橡皮和萬字夾,我向他保證他做得到,並說會讓他一直嘗試,直到成功為止。經過幾次失敗後,他終於能夾起物件,最後一階段就是用筷子夾起彈珠,這對成年人來說也絕非易事呢!第一次,他失敗了;第二次,他也夾不到彈珠;第三次,彈珠滾走了。大約在第六次,他夾住了彈珠,並將彈珠成功夾到另一個碗。他抬頭看我時的笑容令我不得不忍住淚水!看着小男孩由失敗中的轉變是何其感動。他感到非常滿足,不停地以筷子夾起彈珠,每夾起一顆,臉上的笑容便愈見燦爛。


重點不是給小男孩一雙筷子而非勺子,而是給他失敗的機會,並鼓勵他堅持下去。每次他失敗,都能學到一些東西,令他能滿懷自信地拿起筷子。


讓孩子嘗試失敗,並從中吸取教訓。這就是失敗的力量,失敗會成為成功的墊腳石,看看這塊墊腳石在愛迪生成功路上的角色便會明白了。


2013年2月23日



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