Home > Art, Educational, Idea, Science > Learn to Fail (1)

Learn to Fail (1)


This month, at the Substation (Singapore’s Home for the Arts), we have seen an unusual School being set up: the School of Uncommon Knowledge. The idea is to bring all sorts of “lecturers” to teach unusual subjects. The Learn to Fail class was part of the this School, and happened on the 13th and 20th of November 2016.

Can you learn to fail? Is failing a teachable subject? What would such a class look like?

Who are the students? What are they expecting?

Here are some answers, drafted after the class took place. Most answers lead to more questions.

Students (Daytime students of law, biomedicine, medicine, anthropology, but also designers, artists, teachers and man-off-the-street…!) came in out of curiosity. Curiosity is the first step towards new knowledge of course. Curiosity is often fuelled by things that don’t fit, and not understanding what is around, and a desire to resolve the puzzle. So the students were already filtered and on the path to understanding failure.

The class was set up as a practical experimental laboratory. And students were invited to try their hands at the experiments set up. Each of the 3 tables proposed a different challenge and at least 2 ways to answer the challenge. There were no rules as to how many times to attempt the challenge, whether you attempted all or not, and whether you tried more than one method. The idea was to try things, observe and be conscious of your decisions and then eventually discuss the “results” with each other by the end of the session.

The first (13th of Nov) and second class (20th of Nov) were set up in a similar way (3 tables), allowing for returning students to get more in depth into their learning (of failing) and understanding of decision-making.

The goal was to show that really failure can be something to aspire to, and not necessarily something that gets you down (It was established that a “safe” environment with no punishment was essential for this kind of exploration). And the rewards are greater when you can take the more risky route. Rewards came in the form of depth of learning and quality of experience.

We also established that it is more enjoyable to acquire knowledge after having wandered and attempted then failed at answering a question, than before any question is being asked (Think about how much more you remember the answer to a riddle if you have spent a lot of time turning the question to try to answer it rather than just being given the answer just after you’ve been asked it)

From the beginning, it was established that we would be talking about SCIENTIFIC failure – as the motor of scientific progress. This was something that took time to define, the goal being to make even non-scientists accept that the scientific approach can be beneficial for other pursuits.

At the end of the second session, we discussed ideas that came with the notion of “Science”, “Small failures” (Those best avoidable and to be avoided), and “Big Failures” (worthwhile and guiltless, to be pursued).

I will soon post the 3 experiments that were pursued during this 2-class session. In the meantime, you can think for yourself about what these experiments might be.


Categories: Art, Educational, Idea, Science
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: