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Knowing what you don’t know

March 13, 2011

The Failure Files is scheduled for publication on 29 March, by Triarchy Press. I have contributed a short chapter, exploring the importance of failure to learning and the creative process. Friends can buy a copy online now at a pre-publication discount of £17.50 (list price £20), and if you enter the promo code FF20 you get an extra 20% off. Here is a sample from the chapter:

‘All writing that aims for originality and beauty has failure at its core. In true stories as well as fictional ones, creativity is about acting as a shaping consciousness. There is beauty in the story’s shape alone, but even more beauty and pleasure if the story leaves spaces for the imagination, and asks questions about what the writer does and does not know. Perhaps we should abandon the language of policymaking, social constructivism and ‘best practice’, and look instead to the language of poetics, which derives from the Greek root poiein, ‘to make’, giving us permission to attend to the process rather than the finished object. Thus a single word holds within itself a whole world of incompleteness, and hence imagination.’

Among other things, the essay explains the purpose of the critical reflection essay, a key element of practice-based disciplines in higher education. Such an essay allows the process behind practice to be made explicit and documented, separately from the creative work itself. It helps to square professional thinking and the scholarly demand for a demonstration of ‘research-equivalent’ activity. It is also a way of acknowledging the inevitability and value of failure as an aspect of discovery, and as a way of engaging critically with others.

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