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Welcome to my blog. I write about things that interest me in leadership, learning & eduction.

... Not To Give Up

... Not To Give Up

You've probably never heard of Don Valencia. Don had a contagious passion and enthusiasm, living life close to the edge, looking for adventure. He loved to race cars, climb mountains and go camping. His day job was as a cell biologist where he experimented with some of the world's most devastating diseases by freeze-drying cells so they could be studied.

One day while preparing for a camping trip, Don decided to use his freeze-drying technique on coffee. He loved having a cup of coffee on the side of a mountain but, like me, was a bit picky when it came to what he brewed. None of the freeze-dried coffee from the supermarket would do. He tinkered with different beans and different roasts until one day his wife, Heather, stopped by a little start-up coffee shop and found some beans she thought Don might like. Don freeze-dried them and discovered his new coffee wasn't good; it was amazing! He shared his concoction with other backpacking friends and nobody could believe the coffee had been freeze-dried.

That little coffee shop that Heather had discovered exploded into franchises called Starbucks - you may have heard of them! - so Don decided to share his creation with its' CEO, a man named Howard Schultz.
Howard opened the package Don sent him and tried the freeze-dried coffee with scepticism. It wasn't long though before he jumped on a plane to visit Don in his kitchen. They talked for hours as Don explained the process he'd gone through to preserve the flavour of the coffee beans. Howard hired Don on the spot. Don Valencia was suddenly living in Seattle as Head of Research and Development for Starbucks. No longer working on his kitchen table, Don now had a multimillion-dollar laboratory for his experiments.

People who take risks aren't afraid to fail or suffer setbacks because it means they've found the edge. Don created some amazing products for Starbucks, but not all of them worked out. Have you ever heard of Mazagran, for instance? Exactly, me neither. Mazagran was a fizzy coffee-flavoured drink that Don invented and Starbucks rolled out. The only problem was - no-one liked it. Don didn't seem fazed with the disappointment. In fact, the number plate on his car read "Mazagran". He celebrated stunning failures and setbacks like most of us celebrate our biggest successes.

Don taught his family the beauty of failure and how to see them as setbacks that could be learnt from. More importantly, he demonstrated how beautiful it is to keep trying, to keep moving forward, loving yourself enough to love your mistakes. It was this spirit of adventure and dedication to not be put off by failure and setback that led Don to create the science behind a coffee-flavoured icy concoction called the Frappuccino. That one has done pretty well! He kept trying to perfect his freeze-dried coffee, but Starbucks wasn't sure if or how they'd release it, concerned that an inferior freeze-dried coffee might hurt the brand that they'd established.

23 years ago, Gareth Southgate (the current England football manager) was brave enough to volunteer to take the sixth penalty kick in the penalty shoot out to decide whether England or Germany would go through to the final of Euro '96. His penalty kick was saved by the German goalkeeper and England were out. Gareth said recently "I've learnt a million things from that day and the years that have followed it. The biggest thing being that when something goes wrong in your life, it doesn't finish you." We can apply these lessons today as they don't just apply to professional athletes.

Research shows that demonstrating a growth-mindset approach to life is a predictor of long-term success. The first step is to be aware that the journey to long-term success won't result from our talent and ability alone. If you ask anyone who is performing at the very highest levels of their chosen field if becoming successful was easy, they would say no and state behaviours such as high levels of effort, persistence and always striving to learn, as the vital ingredients to achieving success.

To do this we need to instil confidence and joy in learning in our children. I am absolutely aware why a child is afraid of failure and setbacks, as it's the same reasons we as adults are afraid to fail. We know that the measures used in education systems around the world, and society at large, to define success can lead to this fear of failure. But what I am talking about today is about children learning for themselves how to overcome problems without us rushing in to try and fix things for them, however hard this might be for us as teachers or parents. This means that sometimes they will fail and have setbacks; sometimes things won't turn out like they hoped they would. Ultimately, this is how children learn to succeed.

And that is what learning is about, and what education should be about. Helping young people to see that it's ok to fail at something, provided they learn from the experience and use it to bounce forward as stronger people.

In 2006, as Starbucks revisited Don's instant-coffee innovations, Don began treatment for cancer. He died 15 months later but not before Schultz had told him that Starbucks had finally fulfilled his dream: "Stardust" the code name, would soon be sold in stores. When Starbucks unveiled their invention, they called it "VIA." because it had an "on-the-go" quality to it - but Schultz also saw it as a play on Valencia's name and a tribute to Don's innovations.

Don Valencia had numerous setbacks whilst researching coffee, but he didn't give up. Gareth had a very public setback on the football pitch, but he didn't give up. And all of us will experience setbacks and failures - the question is, will we let them define us or will we allow them to help shape us into stronger and more resilient people?

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