How to Fail #LikeABuilder


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You're listening to the school leadership reimagined podcast episode 175. 

How do builders like us make a dramatic difference in the lives of our students in spite of all the obstacles we face? How do you keep your vision for your school from being held hostage by resistant teachers, uncooperative parents, ridiculous district policies or lack of time, money or resources. If you're facing those challenges right now, here's where you'll find the answers, strategies and actionable tips you need to overcome any obstacle you faith. You don't have to wait to make a difference in the lives of the people you serve. You can turn your school into a success story right now with the people and resources you already have. Let's get started.

Hey Builders, welcome to another episode of the school leadership reimagined podcast. I'm your host Robyn Jackson.

And today we're going to talk about something that educators almost never talk about what we don't like to talk about. And that's the word failure. And the reason we're going to talk about is because one of the things that's disturbing me right now is that a lot of educators who haven't quite made the leap to build your ship, are really, really afraid of failure.

And I get it, I mean, failure can be scary. 

But when you're a builder, you know how to handle failure, and you know how to actually use failure for your advantage. And so today, I want to talk about failure and how builders fail differently. And hopefully, that'll be an encouragement to you, if you're feeling a little afraid of failure, right? Now, you can learn how to feel like a builder. But before I do that, I have three things that I want to quickly go over. The first is that tickets are now available to builders labs, so builders lab was happening at the end of January, and we're doing it virtually again, you know, a lot of people have asked us, you know, what's your secret? How are you able to have such an amazing experience? And it'd be virtual? And the answer is that we are very intentional about ensuring that we take care of all of your senses, we call it the 360 degree experience.

So it's not just you sitting in front of a laptop all day, you know, while the presenter drones on and on with the slides, it's highly interactive, you know, we believe that you should learn something and immediately apply it. So you shouldn't go to a conference and learn something and then wait to get back to your school to apply it, you should learn it and then apply it right then in there. So we are teaching and then as soon as we finish teaching, you apply it so that way, we can make sure you understand it before you leave. And if you have questions, we can jump in and answer those questions. If you get stuck, we can help you get unstuck, so that when you leave builders lab, after three days, you not only have a new skill set, but you have the confidence that when you go and apply it into your school, it's going to be right. And so builder slab is happening.

And you know, the last couple of times we've had builder slab, they've did tickets have sold out, I anticipate it's going to happen again, this time in January, January has sold out for the last two years. So the January builders lab looks like it might sell out again this year. And that's because people who come you know a lot of people come back, they come back again for the next year, because of the experience that they have, they want to come back, I want to get more out of it, they come back and they bring their team with them. And I anticipate that's going to happen again. So you need to get your builders lab tickets, and the earlier you get your tickets, the better off because then you can secure everything and make sure you have your spot. So all you need to do to get your tickets is go to mind steps That's mine steps.

Second really cool thing that's happening is that doors are opening for our next builders ship University cohort. And one of the reasons why you just can't join bill to ship University at any time is because it's a curated experience. It's not a membership site. It's a mentorship. When you join builder ship University, I personally mentor you through the process of installing the entire build worship system in your school. And so we bring you in as a cohort so that you are working together step by step through that process. And that way I don't you know, you don't get lost. We know where you are. We know what you're working on. We know the support you need. You get very personalized attention. And a lot of people who are in buildings should be University.

They're just like wait a minute, I cannot believe that I get individual feedback on my work. Yes, that's part of it. You You have projects that you're working on what you know, you learn something and then again, you immediately apply it. And you those projects are not homework. Those projects are about you taking what you've learned, and implementing it in your practice in your school to make your school better. And the you should hear the things that people are all already experiencing the winds that they're experiencing after being in builder ship University for as little as one month.

Because in that first month, you get your vision, you learn how to tell your vision story so that you can get other people to understand and buy into your vision. And you start that mission process. And then you get quickly moving on to core values. By the time you finish the first level of build a ship university, you have a vision, mission core values, you also have a school, one plan, which is something new, that we just started trying to build a ship University, it's incredible. I love this tool, where you go through and you're identifying of all the things that we could be doing what is the one most important thing we need to be doing in these critical areas of our school, if we're going to achieve our vision, and aren't with that one plan, you now have focus. And then you also get an alignment architecture, you put that in place to make sure that the work you're doing stays in alignment with your vision, mission and core values. That's just in level one. And then from level two, and three, and four, you just go on and on and on. And so if you want to join builder, ship, university, you can't get in all the time, but doors are opening this week, you have until Friday to join this cohort. If not, you'll have to wait until the next cohort comes along. So go to builder ship To get your spot in this next cohort. The last thing is that we have been doing something and Yeah, talk about that kind of on social media. But I realized I don't talk about it here. And you You're my people, right. 

So I don't know why I've been keeping this from you. 

But I'm not going to keep it from you anymore. We are doing free vision workshops over inside of builder ship university, because your vision is so important. We want to make sure you get it right. So we are doing free vision workshops. And you can go to builder ship And look for the pop up that tells you how to sign up for the vision workshops. They're absolutely free. And you come on the workshop, I spent about 10 minutes teaching what a vision is and how a builder's vision is different and giving you some examples. And then everybody who's on the call at the beginning gets individual coaching. I mean, how often do you do that you go to workshops, you kind of sit and get butt on the vision workshops, I if you're there, when we start, then you're guaranteed and if you show up afterwards, if we have time we'll get to you. If not, you'll have to come back. But if you're there, the moment we start, we will I will go through each person in order of when you arrived. And I will help you with your vision, you will get individual coaching. And even if you're not being coached that moment listening to other people get coached is so valuable. People are like, Oh, that's opening up so much for me, I didn't consider that I have that question too. And so this is not a workshop where you can sit and get and watch the recording later on.

When you show up, come prepared to get the support you need. And then the nice thing about the vision workshops is because they're free, you can come back as many times as you want. So we have people come by one time, try some things go back, think about it come back the next time we have a vision workshop, say here's where my thinking is get some more feedback, come back a third time and say, Okay, this time I've got it, get some feedback. And then hat walk out of that vision out of that workshop with a clear vision. It's like the coolest thing I do and it's free. And so if you want to come to the next vision workshop, go to builder ship And then look for the pop up that tells you how to sign up so that you get notified when these vision workshops are happening. Or if you want to join the free level of builder ship university, you can also get notified when vision workshops are happening there.

Alright, I think I've talked about the those big announcements. And now let's talk about something that is near and dear to my heart. Even when I was a teacher, I saw this this is a thing that I think is especially true in education. We're afraid to fail. And we start students very early, teaching them to be afraid to fail. Nobody wants enough. Everybody is ashamed of an app. And it carries through into adulthood. And it carries through into how we run our schools. I was talking to a group last week.

I was talking about this 100% vision and why it was so important. 

And you get to see everybody kind of sees up because they said if we put that out there, what if we don't make it? And my question was, but what if you did make it? Yeah, yeah, it's a risk. But I'd rather take a risk on 100% than a risk on 5%. I've talked about this before. It drives me nuts when people say oh, we're gonna make 5% gain this year. Because 5% sets the bar so low that if you fail, it's really, really embarrassing. If you shoot for 100% and instead of getting to 100% of that year, you only make 10% or 20% gains, you're way better off than setting that safe little 5% gain and risking failing that, that setting 100% gain. Even if you fail at 100% You're still further along than you would have been playing it safe with 5%. And so I see a lot of people hurting themselves. By playing it safe, being afraid to fail.

And so what they do is they spend weeks you know, kind of over analyzing the problem or, or weeks getting all the things in place they need to get started. And those are weeks that students are not getting what they need. Those are weeks where everybody is so busy covering their own behinds and trying to make sure that they don't feel that they they, they are neglecting the people that we're supposed to be serving, those are weeks of, of creating more anxiety and pressure and, and weeks of, of talking ourselves out of trying anything, so that by the time we get started, the work that we're doing is a version of what we set out to do. But but a safer version. and, and because it feels safer. We don't risk anything we don't try. And so we lose out on the rewards that only come by taking a risk.

And I find that a lot of leaders, especially the higher they get in leadership, the the further you go, the more risk averse you become. And that's pretty sad, because our students deserve people who are willing to take risk for them. Our students are never going to to achieve what we know they could achieve if we are unwilling to bet on them to take a risk on our students. And so I'm not talking about recklessness here. But there's a long way between there's a big difference between recklessness and taking smart, calculated risk on behalf of children, learning from those risks and getting better. And so the difference between leaders and builders is that leaders avoid failure. And so what they do is they they play it safe, they overanalyze, they over plan, or they go spend a ton of money trying to buy a program that's already quote unquote, proven in order to feel safe. Even if that program isn't a good fit for their culture or their students needs.

They'd rather do that then then then feel unsafe, and risk failure. 

Builders are different with builders, builders, we have we're human, we have the same fears about failure that other people have. But what builders do different is that because we know that failure can be scary, we don't spend a whole bunch of time trying to avoid failure, what we do is we say not only is failure scary, but it's inevitable. So what we want to do is we want to fail fast. And and that's the difference, builders fail. But the difference between how our builder fails and how a leader feels is that a leader spends a whole bunch of time preparing only to fail, and wasting all this time and energy and effort trying to avoid failure only to fail. Whereas builders don't waste a whole bunch of time and effort trying to avoid failure, it's inevitable, we try to fail as quickly as possible, so that we can learn from our failures and set ourselves up for the next big success. It's not that we're reckless, it's not that we're just kind of running around and taking risks that harm children. Instead, we're willing to take risks that that serve our children. And even if we fail at those risks, we know that the payoff comes from the learning we get from those failures. And as a result, we fail fast. But then we build on those failures and turn those failures into success later on. So let's talk about the benefits of failing fast. And then we'll end this episode today talking about some some ways that you can consider to help you fail fast, overcome your fear of failure, and actually take some really smart risk on behalf of your students. That put you in a better space very quickly, the school year.

So the first reason that builders are willing to fail and are and choose to fail fast, is that there are some learning there is some learning that only comes as a result of failure. Think about it, if you don't risk anything, if you don't try anything, if you don't stay if you only play it safe, then you never try anything new, you go with the things that are tried and true. There's something to be said for trying new things, learning from those new things. Making, making investments in and stepping outside of your comfort zone, so that you can learn something that expands your comfort zone, but also expands your ability to be successful.

You know, there's some people who say, Well, we've always done it this way. And that's the way it's going to work. And as a result, they cut themselves off from new learning from new ideas from from from from from exposing themselves to different perspectives that that actually make their work better. The more you stay safe, the less you learn. The more that you get into the habit of failing and failing fast. The more you learn, and there's some learning that you get just for One failure that that other people don't have access to, because they never allow themselves to fail. The second reason that failing fast is so beneficial. And this is why builders do it is that when you get into the habit of failing fast, instead of having analysis paralysis, you can take action, you can take action sooner, the sooner you take action, the sooner you see whether something's going to work, the sooner you see whether or not students something is going to work, the sooner students get the benefits. Or you can pull the plug on something that's not working, because you've moved quickly, you know, a lot of school leaders do is they spend all year analyzing and over analyzing a problem, and it takes a long time to get stuff started. Because they feel like it has to be perfect before they can take action. And so they put things in place, they delay, they have 100 meetings about it, and nothing ever happens.

Meanwhile, builders have done three different things, they've tried three different things, one failed to worked, and they have taken action, their students are receiving the benefits from their actions. And they've learned from that one failure and that one, that learning from that one failure has made the other two things that they're working on even better. So while the leaders are over, they're kind of analyzing things to death, the builders are already taking action. And when you choose to fail fast and gives you permission to take action, you know, in business, they have a term called MVP, it's not most valuable player, it's minimal viable product, when new businesses want to try something new, and they're not sure it's going to work yet. They don't spend months and months and months investing in it, they figure out what is the minimal viable product we can take out to market because even though they are have their best guess about what's going to work, what consumers are going to like, they don't know until they actually put it out in the market, even though they think this is something consumers want, they won't know for sure until someone actually buys it. So rather than spending a whole bunch of time and energy and money in something that may not be appealing to consumers, they take the minimal viable product, they put it out there, if someone buys it, then they're like, great, we know this idea will work, then they deliver that minimal viable product to people to see what people really want what they like, and people give them feedback. And then they show them how to make it get better. And then they released the full version of the product, but the product that they are very confident it's going to work because they have already released that minimal viable product.

Well, why don't we do the same thing in schools, you know, we we spent months trying to get everybody trained on a new reading program? 

Well, we don't even know that reading program is going to work. Why not find some of the master teachers in your building, and have them implement the new reading program, while everybody else is just focusing on your current program and getting better at being reading instructors, your master teachers can play with a new program, pick it apart, see what works, see what doesn't work. And because you're giving it to your master teachers, the people who are most masterful at making things work, they can work out the kinks first, because they're the best equipped to do that. Then once they've worked out the kinks and you know what's going to work, then you can roll it out to the rest of your staff, but you're not rolling out the same product you started with the master teachers have made it better they've made it fit your kids, they've worked out the kinks. So when you roll it out to everybody else, the PD is more relevant. We know now that the program was will work we have case studies and and we have exemplars about how it's worked. We we have people who have made it worked who are now available to mentor other people. Why on earth what we roll out a program to everybody all at once, when we don't even know what's going to work. That's a lot of time, energy and investment that's wasted. Why not?

Instead, it's piloted with a few master teachers first, get it right, know it works, and then roll it out. Here's another example of a way that you can create a minimal viable product, let's say that you are doing something new, some programs, some new some new thing inside of your school. Rather than try to do the whole thing at once you can step people into it, you can start out by getting people excited, you can pull the basic pieces of the program and get people trained on that first, then see if it works, tell people we're going to try this out in a minimal way for the next 90 days. And then we're going to learn from it. One of the reasons builders even use a 90 day planning cycle is to allow them to do those kinds of experiments throughout the year, learn from them. And then when they know they have something that works, then launch it full scale. So let's say you're starting a new grading your reporting policy, rather than just launching the whole thing full scale, pick the pieces that you think are going to have the biggest impact. Get those up and running first, tell people we're going to try it out for the next 90 days till the kids, the parents, the students, and then we're going to learn from we're going to collect feedback from it. And once we have that feedback and we've learned from it, then we can decide is this something that is working and we should expand or is it not working and we should kill it? That way you haven't wasted a whole year on a project that's not working. Instead, you can find out very cool quickly is it working and if so, how, and when you actually launch it, it's better. That's one of the reasons why you want to fail fast. That's why you don't want to spend all this time making things perfect before you launch it, because you can't make it perfect. You have to test it out in the real world people, you need people to break it and play with it first. So you can see how it's gonna work in your school. So instead of try to do things full scale, fail, like a builder fail fast, create an MVP, a minimal viable product, a minimal viable version of that thing you want to roll out, let people play with it first, let them break it, give it a time limit, 90 days, learn from it, study, and then if it works, then roll it out to everybody else.

Another benefit of failing fast is that you really mitigate some of the big things about failure that make failure so scary. If you invest, you know, all year long, trying to get a program up and running. And then it doesn't work. how devastating is that? If you've invested a couple of weeks and trying to get something up and running, and it doesn't work, it's no big deal. You didn't waste a whole year trying to do it. It's you don't you don't have that sunk cost fallacy where you have to keep you feel like you have to keep working out something because you've already spent so much time and money on it. It's a short loss you love take the lessons, and you go do something else. When you try to avoid failure and take everything and make it safe before you get started, you actually increase your risk. When you move quickly and fail fast, you decrease the risk because you haven't invested a whole bunch of time and money in it.

So the end of this whole thing about avoiding failure actually backfires on you. 

Because you end up making failure way more devastating. If you actually run after failure, if you fail fast. It's not like you're trying to fail, but you want to move quickly and learn from things before failure has a chance to be this big devastating thing, then it's no big deal, you just move on, you may have wasted a couple of weeks on something that didn't work. And it isn't even a waste. Because if you can learn from it, then those those those, those couple of weeks that you spent on something that didn't work or just the tuition, they're just the price of admission to something even greater. Another reason why builders like to, to fail fast, is that not only are they learning something for themselves, but they're teaching, they're modeling. They're, they're they're showing staff and students that it's okay to fail, you end up shifting your entire school culture, because when they see you being willing to fail and fail fast and learn from that failure, other people feel safe to fail. So when you choose to fail fast, you actually create safety for everybody else. You see the students are looking at the adults in the building. And if the adults are afraid of failure, the students are going to be afraid of failure. I remember what I was teaching, and I was saying, Oh no, it's okay to fail. And yet I was playing it safe. I never wanted to fail. And my kids were like, okay, yeah, sure it's okay to fail. Why don't you feel when I started this idea of failing fast, I would say okay, we're going to try this, we're going to see how it works. And we're going to learn from it. And I don't know if it's going to work or not. But let's all try it together with the kids started seeing me take those kinds of risks when they started seeing me fail when I would come and say, you know, yesterday, we started down a path. I thought it was going to work, it worked in my head, but it's not working for you. So let's stop, let's regroup. Let's talk about why didn't it work? What did we learn from it? And what can we do to make it better for you, when they heard that heard me do that, when they heard saw that transparency around my process. They felt like partners in their own education, and they felt freer to fail as well. So when you get in the habit of failing fast, you create that safety. So you should be transparent about things. Listen, I don't know if this is going to work or not. I think it's going to work. And here are the reasons why these are some of my reservations. Let's try it. 

Let's give it 90 days, we're going to focus on it for 90 days. And during that 90 days, we're not just going to like you know, keep throwing good money after bad I'll keep doing good effort after bad. During that 90 days. Let's see what works. Let's learn from it. Let's let's continually collect feedback, let's make adjustments in real time. It's only three months, and then that three months, we're going to learn a lot. And if it's not working at the end of three months, we don't have to continue to do it. And at the end of that three months, if it's working, let's double down. If it's not working, let's learn from it. And I'm okay with the fact that it may not work. But let's try. When you have when you bring that kind of transparency to the process. You model for your students, for their families, for the for the teachers and the staff members. This idea that this is the place of learning and learners. In order to fail you got to learn learn is not afraid of failing. It's a part of the learning process. What we do is when we try to avoid failure, we lose the benefits that failure can bring. When when you try to avoid failure You'll end up creating a bigger mess, you end up making failure worse, rather than embracing failure, failing fast, picking yourself up and moving on, at the end of the year, you will have done more, you will have learned more, and you will have achieved more for your students, because you chose to fail fast, like a builder. 

Now, if you've been intrigued by all of this, and you want a safe place to fail fast, come on in to buildership university

Because that's where that's where we do it built ship University is a safe place, nobody's competing for your job, nobody hates you, nobody is gonna laugh at you, nobody's gonna judge you. When you come inside a builder ship University, we create a place for you to fail fast out of the public eye. So one of the things that you're doing and build a ship University is you are you are installing the parts of the builder ship model into your school. So you're creating a vision. And if you're not sure about your vision, rather than saying, Okay, I think I got it, I know how to create a builder's vision and going on creating a vision, you're creating a vision that you then practice on us. 

First we give you feedback, we give you the push back, so that when you share it with your staff, you know, you can feel confident in the vision that you have, because you fail fast inside a builder's university. When you're also creating systems, you're creating systems around feedback and support accountability and culture. And so before you go and install those systems into your school, you do decide to build a ship University and you get individualized feedback on each system before you install it. So that way, if there's something that's not working, you can fail very fast is how to build a ship University and not in front of your staff.

And then you can learn from that failure so that when you go in front of your staff, you can feel really confident about what you've done. Because you know that you don't, what you've done is you've already failed at it, you know how to fix it. And you know how to make sure that it doesn't, it doesn't fail again. So that way you can go out and be in front of people. And you're not you're not bumbling around or stumbling or feeling funny about it now doesn't mean that every time you walk out in front of your people, you're perfect, no, but you have an opportunity to kind of vet your ideas and vet your processes with a group of colleagues first, so that when you go out in front of people, and you're leading them in this fail fast environment, you can feel confident that you will model proper failure that that even if it fails, that that how you fail, will will create more safety in your staff how you fail will create more learning, because you've already gotten the practice of failing fast inside of builders ship University.

So it's not that builders ship University protects you from failure, but it gives you a safe place to begin to create your fail fast muscles. So that when you start to go out in front of other people, you're not scared of failing, because you've been failing safely inside of builder ship University, and learning from that and getting better and better and better. So here's your challenge this week, when you ask yourself, are you playing it safe? Are you it's the work that you're doing on a day to day basis designed to advance your vision? Or is it designed to protect you from failure.

And if you find that you're playing it safe, the one I want to urge you to just take the chance and fail fast. 

Stop avoiding failure, get it out there, learn from it, experiment, use that 90 Day planning cycle to to help you to help you launch things quickly and learn from them so that students can get the benefit as quickly as possible. The A lot of people are worried because they say, you know, if I keep failing like that, and watching people are gonna get whiplash, my teachers are burned out on it, you know whether your teachers are burned out, because instead of creating an environment where failure is okay, we're creating an environment where we're failure, still not okay. And they're failing at their work, and there's no recourse for them. They're burned out because we're saying we still have to help students learn there, they're playing it safe doing the things that they feel safe doing. Students still aren't learning. And they're working harder and harder and harder at something that isn't working. Because there's no mechanism for them to shift gears. There's no mechanism for them to let go of something that's not working. It's just piling on and on and on. That's why your teachers are burned out. And a fail fast environment. Your teachers can say Listen, this isn't working. We have to do something different. All right, let's talk about what that needs to be. Alright, let's create an MVP for that thing and let's get it out there and let's see if it works before we invest any more time and energy into it. Okay, that's not working. Well. Let's look for something else. Oh, that is working. Let's double down on that something we can build and they can go in building that thing. Ain't with confidence because they did the experiment with it first they know how it works. So instead of overwhelming teachers in a fail fast environment, you actually have teachers who feel energized, they, they, they, your you know what to take off their plates, they, they know what to focus on they, they don't feel obligated to continue to do something that isn't working, they instead can go find something that will work. So, I know it's scary. But I want to challenge you this week, that if you're playing it safe, stop and start failing, like a builder. I'll talk to you next time.

Hey, if you're ready to get started being a builder right away, then I want to invite you to join us at Buildership University. It's our exclusive online community for builders just like you where you'll be able to get the exact training that you need to turn your school into a success story right now with the people and resources you already have. You'll find our best online courses, live trainings with me tons of resources, templates and exemplars and monthly live office hours with me where you can ask me anything and get my help on whatever challenge you're facing right now. If you're tired of hitting obstacle after obstacle and you're sick of tiny little incremental gains each year, if you're ready to make a dramatic difference in your school right now, then you need to join Buildership University. Just go to and get started writing your school success story today.

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