Finding success through failure

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Scholars across the globe elucidate the benefits of being unsuccessful

Learning from failure is a matter of common folk wisdom. But in reality, most loath to fail, as loss of motivation and confidence -- and perhaps even lower standing among peers -- often result. In spite of everything we know about failure, we know very little about its precise benefits.

Emmanuel Manalo at Kyoto University's Graduate of Education and Manu Kapur at ETH Zurich in Switzerland report that, while failure is essential to learning, instances where failure leads to beneficial outcomes and eventual success are due to particular circumstances.

Their editorial, published in a special issue of Thinking Skills and Creativity , introduces 15 research articles from experts around the world discussing the benefits of failure in a wide range of subjects, from mathematics to science, and robotics to video gaming. Together, these reveal how it is possible to cultivate attitudes and competencies that support learning from mistakes.

"We put out an international call for research pertaining to the benefits of failure," explains Manalo. "The 15 papers we selected represent the most robust research clarifying what is necessary for failure to become beneficial in an educational context."

For instance, working in collaboration with Yoshinori Oyama from Chiba University, Manalo reveals in one study that people are more motivated to continue working after failure if they perceive themselves to be close to completion. Moreover, this motivation increases the more clearly the person sees how to complete the task.

Meanwhile a team from Ben-Gurion University in Israel shows that when teachers discuss their failures with colleagues, they only benefit from the discussion if the experience is framed productively. In other words, how failure is interpreted in such conversations makes all the difference.

Manalo states that worldwide, testing and test scores are becoming more important to schools, teachers, and students. So much so that they lose sight of the very purpose of education, which is to promote learning.

"Failure is essential to learning. But simply saying 'we should learn from failure' or ' ganbatte ' in Japanese is usually not enough," concludes Manalo. "We must actively learn from the experience, and be aware of what to improve."

Until students and educators understand these conditions, failure will continue to be feared and avoided, and people will hesitate due to fear of failing, potentially resulting in missed opportunities for success.


Paper information


Emmanuel Manalo, Manu Kapur (2018). The role of failure in promoting thinking skills and creativity: New findings and insights about how failure can be beneficial for learning. Thinking Skills and Creativity.

This paper served as the introductory editorial for a special issue of Thinking Skills and Creativity -- consisting of 15 additional articles -- which can be seen in its entirety here: