The Vulnerability of Learning

If you want a culture of creativity and innovation, where sensible risks are embraced on both a market and individual level, start by developing the ability of managers to cultivate an openness to vulnerability in their teams. And this, paradoxically perhaps, requires first that they are vulnerable themselves. This notion that the leader needs to be “in charge” and to “know all the answers” is both dated and destructive. Its impact on others is the sense that they know less, and that they are less than. A recipe for risk aversion if ever I have heard it. Shame becomes fear. Fear leads to risk aversion. Risk aversion kills innovation.

Brene Brown

Recently, I was speaking at a conference, and I asked the following question;

I will be the first to admit this, but have any of you ever said the following to a group of students; “The bell doesn’t dismiss you; I dismiss you.”

Hands always go up and share that they have said this, but today, Dylan Wiliam, an amazingly brilliant mind in education, was sitting in the front row and raised his hand.  Stunned, I asked again, “You have said that?” He looked at me, nodded yes, and to which I said, “Well you kind of sucked that day.” Again, he agreed.

First of all, I was humbled Dylan Wiliam was sitting in the front row of my talk, but then, admitting that he as an educator has had days that were not the “best” said a lot to myself, and the rest of the group.  The best educators in the world, have had days that they have been less than stellar.  We look up to these people, sometimes believing they are infallible, yet not understanding that they too have had points in their career that they look back in disappointment.  What probably makes them educators that others look up to is that although they have had those days, they learn from it, get better, and then move on.  We celebrate the product but ignore the process.

I love this image from comedian Demetri Martin:

Any successful person has had those ups and downs, but ultimately, they keep moving onward and upward. I look back at my own career and think about certain points, “What was I doing?!?!?”, understanding that I have learned so much from my mistakes, as well as the times I have been successful. There are times now that I would even celebrate as a success currently, but may look back upon years from now and wonder, “What was I doing?!?!?”  The world moves forward and so must we.

What is important is that we share these stories, and own them.  It is easy to criticize others and point out their flaws, but are we willing to look inward and be critical of our own work?  Doing this openly will help others more comfortable with being uncomfortable. They starting seeing themselves in a picture where they too can move onward and upward. If you want others to move forward, be willing to share your stumbles and falters along the way.

Share it, own it, and learn from it. This will help you and others move forward.


(I also shared this thought through a video reflection last night on Twitter, so here is the 1 minute version below.)

Source: George Couros


  1. Marie said:

    Thanks for sharing this post – so very true. I recall as part of my Master’s work having to dive into something that I had never done before. I chose sailing. Talk about the high waves , winds, and turbulent waters – a metaphor for the up and down emotions I experienced – especially leading to the final test where I was being tested on a $360,000 boat that I rented just for the day. I’ll never forget the frustration of trying to ‘park’ this thing and with the instructor and my son present, trying to do so with my foot on the brakes! For any Sailors out there…there were no brakes….I believe educators are more effective if they engage in new learning themselves to appreciate the vulnerability and similar experiences that our learners go through as they learn from us and begin to ‘test the waters’/grapple with new concepts every day.

    April 3, 2017

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