Is there such a thing as self-schadenfreude? Is there a time when we enjoy our own failures? I suppose if I’m in a self-sabotaging mode, there’s a sense of relief in failure. But in general, the best I can do with failure is feel neutral about the failure itself, and then hopeful or energized about trying again.
I’ve been reading an article about goal orientation and creativity. Goal orientation comes in three flavors: learning, achievement and avoidance. If you’re in the learning mode, then failure means you get a chance to do something new, to learn something new. If you’re in the achievement mode, you want to try again because success is important to you (as well as the praise and attention that come with success). If you’re in the avoidance mode, you’re not as motivated by learning or success; you’re just interested in avoiding failure.
These modes are related to creativity because people in the avoidance mode tend to avoid risk, and risk is almost always a necessary ingredient in creativity. “Linking Failure Feedback to Individual Creativity: the Moderation Role of Goal Orientation” (a study of the R&D employees in five Chinese companies) also points out that knowing someone’s goal orientation, and tailoring the “failure feedback” to it, gives supervisors real power in terms of bringing about creativity in employees. The article says that when “employees can reframe failure events,” they can then “perceive failure feedback as providing inspiration to create meaning in the face of failures, which then motivates further creative engagement.”
As a teacher, I’m constantly thinking about how I provide feedback to students, and how to improve that feedback. Being a student involves a fair bit of risk-taking and failure. It takes creativity, and a big-picture orientation on a teacher’s part to reframe failure for students, and it’s exciting to me to think that a careful reframing can help lead students to creativity, or to success in general.
Speaking of failure and creativity and especially of risks, I’m about to take one. This is my last “Pedagogy Stew.” It is time for me to focus more on my creativity consulting business. I’ve led workshops for businesses, civic organizations, church groups and educators (as well as a lot of students in my creativity & problem-solving class — and all my classes, really). I want to do more workshops, and I want my website, marniedresser.com, to be an in-depth creativity resource. Join me there?
For the last seven years, I’ve been happy to share my thoughts and research with Voice of the River Valley readers, and I’m grateful to Sara Lomasz Flesch for the opportunity. Leaving the comfort of that regular outlet does feel like a risk to me, but it’s time, and if something about this new venture ends up feeling like, or truly being, a failure, I’ll just have to reframe it for myself, for my own learning orientation (which I would say is a mix of learning and achievement), and move on to the next risk.
Marnie Dresser is a poet, creativity researcher and English professor at the University of Wisconsin-Richland. She lives in Spring Green with her husband and son and contributes to this space on a rotating basis ideas about creativity and education.