Message to seniors – fail, fast, forward

Carol Bartz was the daughter of a dairy farmer in Alma, Wisconsin. She went on to attend college at University of Wisconsin – Madison, earning a degree in computer science. She worked her way up the corporate ladder which included successfully building a tech company called Autodesk from $300 million in annual revenue to $1.5 billion over 14 years. She also experienced dramatic failures leading to her being fired as CEO of Yahoo. In 2012, she returned to her alma mater to pass on lessons she had learned to graduating seniors.

“Accept failure and learn from it. Failure is part of life, it’s part of every career, and you have to know how to take advantage of it. The single greatest strength that this country has via Silicon Valley is that failure is seen as a sign of experience. Failure is part of work, it is part of life.”

“People are willing to take risks on the way to innovation. One of my fondest sayings is fail, fast, forward. Recognize you’ve failed, try to do it fast, learn from it, build on it, and move forward. Embrace failure, have it be part of your persona.”

“You’re going to have long careers, as I’ve already told you, you’re going to have many failures – personal, business, and professional. I’ve had my share. But just use this as a building block to your next success.”

This year, 3.3 million students will be graduating from public high schools. They are entering a world moving toward a new normal as we deal with the fallout of the pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis has forced businesses to adapt to new operating conditions, spurning rapid innovations to survive. Education has had to move to distance learning overnight, focusing on engaging and challenging students using tools other than grades and face-to-face interaction.

All of us are creating new programs/activities as we adapt to ever changing conditions, experiencing successes & failures, pivoting to new ideas and moving forward with them, then following the cycle all over again. The environment of ambiguity and changing conditions discourages many from pushing forward with innovation. Adaptation to new situations will involve failure, but also gaining knowledge that will lead to future successes.

It is said that when Thomas Edison was creating the light bulb, he failed 1000 times before finally inventing a working prototype. Albert Einstein was kicked out of grade school, yet kept learning and won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921. A man named Abraham Lincoln started a business that failed in 1831, suffered a nervous breakdown in 1836, was defeated in his run for President of the United States in 1856, only to win in the 1960 election and lead our country through a challenging time in our development as a nation.

Graduates, as you move toward your future endeavors after high school, remember the words of a daughter of a small town dairy farmer in Wisconsin: fail, fast, forward. Lessons from failure provide knowledge that will lead to your greatest successes in life and career. Good luck and Godspeed!

Dr. Steve Patchin is Superintendent of Hancock Public Schools. Programs he has contributed to creating include Mind Trekkers and CareerFEST, helping students explore their talents and associated careers in STEM. His research has focused on increasing development of self-efficacy in individual students.


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