When creating something new, the delete button is your friend

I’ve been thinking a lot about learning and failing.

Thomas Edison is credited with saying, “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” That is sometimes a hard lesson to learn and even a harder lesson to live, but it’s one that the DEEL Team and the teachers and administrators who have been part of the planning process for R3 (Recruit, Retain, Reward) have had to own.

Life is about iterations. If we don’t get it right the first time, then the next iteration of the idea is going to be better, because we have learned what not to do. Will Smith talks about how success can actually inhibit the creative process explaining, “Fear is the killer of creativity.” He goes on to say, “Fail early, fail often, and fail forward.”We shouldn’t fear failure because that is how we learn. Check out this interview on YouTube – Will Smith and Why it’s important to Fail.

The very first poster I bought as a teacher was a poster of Michael Jordan about how he failed. As a teacher at CM Eppes and JH Rose, I referred to that poster a lot. As principal at Ayden Middle and Chicod, I quoted this poster every awards day, especially the last two lines, “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” At DEEL, we encourage and embrace failure as a way to learn. Our teacher leaders are tackling huge instructional problems of practice. They are not taking the easy shots, they are learning by noticing what doesn’t work. They are working as collaborative teams to learn from their failure in order to find what will make them successful.


I’m in the final stages of writing my dissertation for my PhD in Curriculum and Instruction. It’s been a long process – 6 years. I’ve written over 200 pages AND I have learned that the delete button is now my friend.

What I had to learn was that I have to write in order to think. I had to write something that didn’t work, or didn’t sound right, or didn’t communicate my point in order to learn what did work. I had to make my bride or Tom laugh at my weird metaphors. I had to be challenged to think differently, to be able to validate my claims, to sit through an awkward silence as I thought about a tough question my advisor asked. I had to delete the first 20 pages I wrote for Chapter 4 of my dissertation because it didn’t work.  Then and only then, did the words start flowing. The delete button became my friend, and allowed me to learn from my failures.

delete button

I can tell you that as an FT or a TLI participant, failure is scary. Having to delete ideas is nerve racking. It sometimes feels like getting kicked in the gut. But once you clear the page of the words that don’t work, it’s free to absorb those ideas that have a better chance of working. That is what learning is all about and the kind of spirit that we encourage and embrace at DEEL.

If you are scared of failure, then practice. Practice writing a crazy idea on paper or better yet, on a white board in big letters. Practice standing up in front of a mirror and reading it out loud. Delete what doesn’t work and write new ideas that work better. Then practice reading it to a trusted friend. Delete what doesn’t sound right and add ideas that your trusted friend ask you. As you capture your crazy ideas on paper, you learn to embrace the notion that the old ideas taught you something. You learn to delete what doesn’t need to be read and instead let the creative ideas flow into the open space.

When creating something new, let the delete button be your friend and then keep typing.

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