How to overcome the fear of failure

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Recently, we performed a Team Resource Management seminar to a large group of National School Board leaders.  The facilitated lectures were capstoned with a serious game called GemaSim.  In this game, teams of 8 would compete against other teams of eight to perform a “space mission”.  To be successful at the game requires team members to actively employ their team resource skills that they “learned” during the facilitated lecture.  The game is designed to introduce stress through uncertainty, ambiguity, time-critical decision making, and natural competition.  One element of the game that required the team’s utmost attention was that of properly managing the energy through the use of battery charging.

Overall, the training was a success; however there was a small, but adamant, contingent of learners that expressed concern that the game was too technical.  They were so overwhelmed on how to properly charge the batteries that they became paralyzed and stopped trying to solve the problem.  The charging of the batteries didn’t require any technical skill to perform…no calculations, no physics, just a linear sequence of turning a knob or pressing a button.   So why then did they become so overwhelmed and blamed it on the fact that it was too technical?

In part I believe the reason is what I call FOFFear of Failure.  It was much easier to focus on the perceived limitations of their ability, thinking that a serious game requires “gaming” technical expertise that only younger generations understand, than to try to compartmentalize the issue and using their cognitive energy to complain about the problem instead of using their cognitive energy to solve the problem applying the concepts from the class.  In other words…a way to rationalize failure.

I’m not sure exactly when FOF starts creeping into our mindsets; however I noticed that working with young boys in Scouting that they are almost always eager to try some type of outdoor challenge that has certain risks of failure.  It appears that FOF just isn’t in their vocabulary yet.  I believe that when we were young we were natural learners, absorbing information out of our environments through natural curiosity and play.  Somewhere while growing up we lost that.  Learning became a more serious business, and that it’s supposed to be hard and effortful.

As trainers and developers however we have a professional obligation to defy the notion that learning has to be hard and effortful.  We need to step out of our comfort zone and actively create learning environments that become relevant, interesting, and even… fun.

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