True Grit: Is Failure an Option in Adult Learning


Often times in the workplace adults fear failure. As an employee every decision, deliverable, meeting, and so on can seem like it is critical to your career and thus critical to your livelihood. No one wants to lose their job and thus failure often seems like it isn’t an option.

I however argue that failure is the only way we learn. If we don’t give adult learners room to fail, when the risks are low, then we limit innovation, creativity, and true learning. Furthermore, failure needs to be an option beyond the training room. It needs to extend to “stretch assignments” where employees are allowed to learn a new skill in a real world situation. Then if and when they fail, it should be seen as an growth opportunity rather than an epic career killing fail. There has to be room to allow adult learners to persevere and to not fear failure.

After hearing much buzz in the media about K-12 students developing GRIT, I am inclined to think that adults also need a little true grit. Developing grit is similar to developing a “growth mindset.” This is an idea developed at Stanford University by Carol Dweck, and essentially it is the belief  that failure is not a permanent condition. That is why I believe that the same applies for adults. If adults are in an environment where they fear failure, we reduce their ability to learn and develop new skills. If the stakes are too high very few adults will take risks and try something new and innovative or it means that for those that do, they may give up before they have a break through.

What do you think? Do you have true grit? Take the assessment and see where you fall on the grit scale.