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We must not be afraid of letting our children fail

WHEN Prof Morgan Kelly opens his mouth, it's usually about the economy.

One of his recent statements, though, was about something else. He said we need to "start failing people again".

He's right. He's so right. We've created a crazy "no failure" culture, starting in pre-school.

No child is allowed to fail. Every child gets praised. Every child must win a prize. Why? Because we're so scared that any one of them might have their self-esteem dented in even the smallest way.

Nonsense. Counter-productive nonsense. Failure is a good career move, not a bad one.

Steve Jobs said that being fired by Apple was good for him.

He learned enough from the experience to come roaring back to lead the corporation to what were arguably its greatest years – the iPod, iPad, iPhone years – more than a decade later.

Many of the greatest success stories have a major failure episode, snuck in there between "Once upon a time" and "They all lived happily ever after".

Take Einstein, the genius who changed the course of science. The great man's parents, according to legend, were extremely bothered when he was a toddler because he didn't ever seem to speak.

Today, they'd have him with a therapist long before his second birthday, but back then therapy was not an option, so month after month went by, during which the child was completely silent.

Around the age of four, the story goes, at lunch one day, little Albert put down his spoon. "This soup is too hot," he announced.


Realising he could speak perfectly, his parents asked why he had not uttered a word for four years. He replied that the soup had been just fine until then.

For many people who go on to achieve mind-blowing success, their first failure happens when they're in school, usually where they encounter a teacher who rubbishes them.

Thomas Edison, the man who came up with a good proportion of the gadgetry that allowed the 20th Century to be such a time of change and development, was described by his teacher as "too stupid to learn anything".

What's interesting about Edison is not only that he ignored this comment, but that he ignored thousands of his later failures. He did one experiment after another that went nowhere, seeing each of them as one more step on the way to success.

The vacuum cleaner man, James Dyson, shares the same mindset.

Yes, says Dyson, it took 5,126 failed prototypes before his invention succeeded.

But you know what? Prototype number 5,127 worked a treat, made everybody involved a lot of money and turned the Dyson name into an international brand.

Next time CAO frenzy breaks out, we should remember that not getting the third-level place you want can be the beginning of your success, not the end of your dreams.

Steven Spielberg was rejected by the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts not once but several times.

Of course it can reasonably be said that being rejected by a bunch of bureaucratic academics does not necessarily constitute failure. But the reality is that when Spielberg was rejected, he sure as shooting didn't rush home to his mammy claiming success.

He probably felt as crushed as Dr Seuss did when his first book was rejected by – wait for it – 27 publishers. Yet the two of them went on to dominate their respective genres.

As children and as adults, we need to fail, pick ourselves up and move on. If we're lucky, someone close to us will have more faith in us than we have in ourselves.

When author Stephen King tossed the manuscript of his novel, Carrie, into the wastepaper basket as a failure, it was his wife, Tabitha, who dug it back out and persuaded him to keep going with what would go on to become a major international bestseller.

We all need a Tabitha. But maybe we all need the valuable experience of failure too.