In our current school systems it does but according to James Paul McGee, an expert in games and education, it doesn’t need to be.  There was a great article in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine written by reporter Sara Corbett titled “Learning by Playing: Video Games in the Classroom”. It showcased a school in NYC called Quest to Learn where digital games are front and center in educating sixth and seventh graders.  The school is the brainchild of a Generation Xer called Katie Salen and a group of game and curriculum designers that are looking at innovative ways to teach children.  According to the article, the school is ” one of a handful of  ’demonstration sites’  for innovative technology-based instructional methods and is part of a larger effort on the city’s part to create and experiment with new models for schools”.

Wow!  Can you believe they used innovation and experimentation in the same sentence as education?  Crazy, huh?  But very encouraging.  For years as I’ve spoken in front of teachers and educators, I have talked about digital games and how educational they can be for children.  Everyone has this incorrect notion that video games are all bad and violent.  Yes, there are some games that are like that but many others that are very educational.   I’ve actually read a lot of  James Paul McGee’s book on the topic but more importantly, I’ve seen it myself.

Although I think that the younger Millennials have taken more to digital games than their older counterparts who are already working,  video games are part of the  Millennial experience.  I’ve said many times that Millennials don’t see failure as a bad thing.  This comes directly from playing video games.  Failure in a video game just means you have to work harder to get to the next level and learn from your mistakes.  Isn’t that a much healthier way of looking at failure than seeing it as a disaster?  As anyone who has become successful at something will tell you, they learned most when they failed at something than when they excelled in it.  How can you innovate if you are afraid to fail?

Yet, most of our educational system is based on the fact that failing is not good.  Then people wonder why kids drop out of school. It’s rewarding to see that a school and it’s teachers are embracing experimentation as a way to break away from 20th Century methods that are frayed at the seams and in direct conflict with living in the 21st Century.   Although it’s too soon to tell what the results of their innovative approach is,  in my book, they’ve already won because they saw a problem and took action.  These teachers were frustrated with what they saw in the educational system today and took a chance to change it.   Experimenting with new concepts and techniques is the only way that educators will forge ahead and bring much needed change to education.

The Millennials in my team showed me that failure was not a disaster.  I had forgotten that. Because in a corporate setting, very much like an educational one, failure is often not an option.  It is not seen as a chance to get better at something or to innovate but rather as something to avoid.  You don’t get a merit increase or yearly bonus if you fail, do you?

But sometimes you need to fail to find innovative solutions to things.  If leaders don’t create an environment where it’s okay to fail, their teams will shy away from trying new things.  Failure is at the very heart of experimentation and we need to find ways to get comfortable with it.  One way to do that is to create an Idea Incubator in your team.  The concept is simple:  give people time to hash out an idea and see what happens.  There aren’t many rules associated with the incubator – the more free flowing and unencumbered, the better. 

What we found when we allowed the Idea Incubator to flourish is that when people are allowed to come up with an idea or a concept and can experiment with it, a lot of good comes out of it.  The idea itself may not lead to anything concrete such as a new product or service but most times, it will lead to a better way of doing something or another idea that does have potential.  The key is to see the process as a way of getting better at something not as failing at something when it doesn’t pan out.   That is a critical component for innovation to thrive in a team.  It’s also critical for success in the 21st Century.

So what about you?  Is failure a disaster or just a way to get better at something?