Be The First Penguin

I have been digging through some old things lately and stumbled across this and felt it was worthy to share with you. It was something that was shared (by a dear friend of mine) at my pinning ceremony before gradation. Now, 3 years later, I am working on my grad school application it seemed ironic that I would find this today.

Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.

That’s an expression I learned when I took a sabbatical at Electronic Arts, the video-game maker. It just stuck with me, and I’ve ended up repeating it again and again to students. It’s a phrase worth considering at every brick wall we encounter, and at every disappointment. It’s also a reminder than failure is not just acceptable, it’s often essential.  When I taught the “Building Virtual Worlds” course, I encouraged students to attempt hard things and to not worry about failing. I wanted to reward that way of thinking. So at the end of each semester, I’d present one team of students with a stuffed animal – a penguin. It was called “The First Penguin Award” and went to the team that took the biggest gamble in trying new ideas or new technology, while failing to achieve their stated goals. In essence, it was an award for “glorious failure,” and it celebrated out-of-the-box thinking and using imagination in a daring way.  The other students came to understand: “First Penguin” winners were losers who were definitely going somewhere.  The title of the award came from the notion that when penguins are about to jump into water that might contain predators, well, somebody’s got to be the first penguin. I originally called it “The Best Failure Award,” but failure has so many negative connotations that students couldn’t get past the word itself. Over the years, I also made a point of telling my students that in the entertainment industry, there are countless failed products. It’s not like building houses, where every house built can be lived in by someone. A video game can be created and never make it through research and development. Or else it comes out and no one wants to play it. Yes, video-game creators who’ve had successes are greatly valued. But those who’ve had failures are valued, too – sometimes even more so.  State-up companies often prefer to hire a chief executive with a failed start-up in his or her background. The person who failed often knows how to avoid future failures. The person who knows only success can be more oblivious to all the pitfalls.  Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer.



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