Creativity, Innovation

When Was Your Last Great Nearling?

In all this talk of experiencing failure and the power of failure to move you to a place of success, I came across a term that was new to me: nearling. What is a nearling?

According to this website:

A nearling is a positive word for something new that you did with the right intentions, which has not (yet) led to the right result.

The reasons for nearlings not to succeed can be diverse, the circumstances have changed; a better option has been chosen; you made an error; faith decided differently; there suddenly were other priorities, etc.

Until this moment there was no right English word for this phenomenum. There is the word ‘failure’, yet that sounded negative. You only recognize a nearling when you look back. You can always learn from a nearling. The nearling fills a gap in the international innovation language.

You can be proud of nearlings because:
1. You started an initiative
2. You may have moved others
3. Maybe it led you to something that was successful
4. You need many nearlings, for a few successes
5. You learned from it
6. …

The part I like about this the most is “something new that you did with the right intentions”.

That made me think of Seth Godin.  In his book “Linchpin”, Seth talks about being fearless – and the difference between being fearless, reckless and feckless:

Fearless doesn’t really mean “without fear.” What it means in practice is, “unafraid of things that one shouldn’t be afraid of.” Being fearless means giving a presentation to an important customer without losing a night’s sleep. It means being willing to take intellectual risks and to forge a new path. The fear is about an imagined threat, so avoiding the fear allows you to actually accomplish something.

Reckless, on the other hand, means rushing into places that only a fool would go. Reckless leads to huge problems, usually on the boss’s dime. Reckless is what led us to the mortgage and liquidity crisis. Reckless is way out of style.

Feckless? Feckless is the worst of all. Ineffective, indifferent, and lazy.

I am sure, like many of you, you have experienced moments when you have given your kids choice in project work and watched them choose a ‘safe’ topic.  In one of our first projects of the year, I experienced the following:

  • I watched one child build his solar powered car in about 45 minutes.  He had two weeks to work on it.  When I talked with him – for about an hour – we eventually figured out that what he had wanted to do was build a boat but with more panels, more motors and more propellers.  Problem?  He eventually admitted when I asked him why this wasn’t his project: “I know the car works.  I don’t know if the boat will work.”
  • Another student found instructions online for a solar powered charging device.  She asked if she could print them off and do that as her project.  I said she could use those instructions and make that device as research but that she would then need to ask her own questions and investigate something new and different – how to charge two devices, how to shorten the charge time etc.  The next day she came in with a completely different topic requiring no hands-on component and nothing more complex than a ‘what is a…’ question.

What is holding these super smart kids back?  I think it is a fear of being fearless.  On his website, Brain Rules, John Medina asks “At what point do children stop asking questions in schools?”  Here is his answer:

Elementary School.  Kids learn very quickly that teachers value the right answer more than a provocative question.Consider a whopping six-year study with more than 3,000 innovative executives, from chemists to software engineers, published in 2009. The biggest common denominator of these entrepreneurs? Inquisitiveness. Lead author Hal Gregersen, interviewed in Harvard Business Review, talks about children:

“If you look at 4-year-olds, they are constantly asking questions. But by the time they are 6 ½ years old, they stop asking questions because they quickly learn that teachers value the right answers more than provocative questions. High school students rarely show inquisitiveness. And by the time they’re grown up and are in corporate settings, they have already had the curiosity drummed out of them. Eighty percent of executives spend less than 20 percent of their time on discovering new ideas.”

So, what do we do?

Well, we could start by sharing the following words from writer, Neil Gaiman, that he penned to welcome in the new year:

And then we could all put this up in our rooms:

Most importantly, start listening more, talking less and encouraging our kids to be in charge of their own questions.

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7 thoughts on “When Was Your Last Great Nearling?”

  1. Sonya: I love your blog posts. I’m now following them. I’m printing the “hard” poster for Ceci. Now that I have time to read your posts, I’m really enjoying them. Keep them coming. You always back up with research. Makes me hesitate to write anything until I spend some time researching. How’s Exhibition?

    1. Thanks Kristen! I know when I read people’s blogs, I like to see where they gathered their ideas from – plus I am just finding some of this stuff so interesting – especially the brain stuff. I am wondering what is going to happen once Spring Break is over and I don’t have the luxury of pondering over these posts throughout the day! Exhibition started with a great bang! We had a day of in-school workshops followed by our Passions Tour followed by connecting everything for our SLC’s and figuring out our ‘why’ (why we are passionate about the things we love), The break was perfect timing – hopefully a chance for ideas to percolate and for everyone to take a breath before they dive in headfirst! I would love for us to join your twitter group but have to confess that I have no idea how that would actually work! Totally up for it though! I need to learn more about hashtags and such! If you can give me a cheat sheet of ‘how to’, then we’re in!

      Sent from my iPad

      1. Sonya: Hey! Just looking through these comments. All this technology..I dabble in all and am a master of none. Twitter. You get an account set up by you. We are YIS5B. We only follow a few people at school–other Grade 5 classes. I’m having the kids Tweet about their books to continue to make reading social and about Exhibition. No hashtags on our Tweets yet. That’s all. Check it out! Exhibition finishing soon. Just thinking of a post on it now. Ah…

  2. We are on the same wave… I follow Neil Gaiman on twitter @neilhimself 🙂
    When I read John Medina’s quote, “Kids learn very quickly that teachers value the right answer more than a provocative question” to Will he said that it reminded him of a book he ordered called ‘Brain Rules’. He saw John Medina speak at NAIS…
    You are on to something amazing here!

    1. So, add John Medina and Neil Gaiman to the club! I am really enjoying reading about the brain research John Medina has done. His website is extensive and I challenge any teacher to read that information about kids figuring out that teachers value ‘right’ over ‘provocative’ and not want to delve deeper to figure out why that is and how we can reverse that trend. Really great stuff on his site – and I am sure the book is equally as good.

      Sent from my iPad

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