Why We Cannot Allow Kids to Simply Fail

The title sounds like a recipe for a “give everyone a trophy” speech – and this is NOT that opinion piece. As a matter of fact, I’m a fan of experiencing failure – it creates resiliency and a strength that no other lesson can teach. Here lies the oxymoron of a title that makes many competitive people like me uneasy. Oprah Winfrey once said,
“The future is so bright it burns my eyes.”
It was that collection of words that brought tears to my own eyes for I understood the blood, sweat, and tears that Oprah stood firmly on to make that statement. It is the hard work and the failed attempts that give that statement its power. Hard work is often times what we lack in our endeavors in life – and kids, they notice.
I believe in a simple standard – input equals output. Put mediocre effort in, get mediocre results out. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done in life – effort is correlated to outcomes. Here’s the “gotcha” in this article – I don’t want us to prevent failure of kids – rather,
I want us to drive them to give their maximum effort – the outcomes will speak for themselves.
I’ve had the pleasure of studying youth outcomes, education standards, behaviors, and potential since 2007. The results are eye-opening, alarming, encouraging, and everything in between. Inner city results are far different from suburb or private school kids – in some areas. The data suggests that an education gap in inner cities around the country creates a larger gap in positive youth outcomes. That’s no surprise. The next “gotcha” is that no matter the zip code, kids who were not exposed to hard-working entrepreneurial parents skewed toward the same outcomes as the so-called disadvantaged kids. Mind blowing that a parent could spend thousands on “the best education” and end up with the same child as the inner city parent whose child attends an academically low performing school.

EFFORT – there’s no substitute

Effort is part of a Performance Quotient that I’ve been developing for quite some time. You look at sports and see kids who had every disadvantage known to man but still were able to rise to success. How is this possible? The good news is that the inner city disadvantages aren’t a death knell for youth in that area. The bad news is that effort will be a predictor of success for our youth everywhere and we rarely address, measure, or attempt to make improvements in effort.

We cannot allow kids to fail at effort.

Failure comes at different levels. We view “failure” as not achieving your desired outcomes. Failure is a noun – it is a place we end up at the end of the effort. Do people who give high effort fail? Definitely. I’d like to ask you where you end up if you’ve failed and not given the effort – you end up nowhere. Failure presents a learning opportunity – if you’ve given the effort – you’re vested. You’re interested in knowing where did things go wrong so that you can try again. If you’ve failed with minimal effort – you won’t get the lesson. Without the lesson, there is no chance of better outcomes. Ultimately we grade on outcomes when one of the most pronounced grading criteria should be effort.
Effort is difficult to quantify – it’s part objective and part subjective.
I can see if you’ve exerted effort – but the individual has an idea if they’ve given it their maximal effort. Do some people not know what their maximal effort looks like? I would suggest that most people don’t know what their maximal effort looks like. We don’t teach it – so how does one know? As we measure youth outcomes – which factor into societal outcomes – we must be looking at effort – how we measure it, how we motivate it, how we maximize it.
In all of my studies – the closest behavioral theory that addresses effort can be seen in Gilbert’s Behavioral Engineering Model (BEM). This model breaks down six areas that influence performance outcomes
  1. Individual Knowledge
  2. Individual Capability
  3. Individual Motivation
  4. Environmental Knowledge
  5. Environmental Capability
  6. Environmental Motivation
We see youth failures as outcomes that were achieved alone when in fact the outcomes were influenced by multiple areas. I most closely connect effort with motivation – however I would propose that maximal effort is closely connected to all six areas of Gilbert’s BEM. A child that is not given the right tools (capability), or incentive (motivation), or even one who is only given half information (knowledge) – how do we expect for them to exert maximal effort? We can’t expect to see maximal results from people who are deficient – and those deficiencies are within our control.
Back to the beginning – we cannot allow kids to fail. Our part is to make sure we give them the knowledge, capabilities, and incentives to use their maximal effort. We must give them the path to use all that they have. If they fail at an attempt – that’s okay. Failure with maximal effort is simply a speed bump on the road to success – you’ll never get off path. WE – adults who are in charge of the tools and resources cannot allow kids to fail with no real effort – that’s killing our future.
Older generations label a lack of effort as “laziness”. I would suggest that WE must all take ownership into the youth “effort” that’s exerted today. No one develops a lackadaisical demeanor on their own…AND no one develops their maximal effort on their own. Much more to come on this topic. As I continue to develop this idea I’ll write more about Effort and its impact on outcomes. Please comment, and share! –Until then, have an #AMAZING day!

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