Mistakes, Failures and Progress

PUBLISHED ON 2014-02-22

The last few weeks of work have been an embarrassing cavalcade of mistakes. The majority of this project was well worn territory for me, with a few new problems sprinkled in. With new unique problems you have to dive in and start someone, every starting point I picked ended up being a black hole of misery and wasted time. We have since recovered, but the experience reminded me of a few brilliant TED talks about exactly these topics…

Anyway, this dove tailed well with me seeing a TED talk by Tim Harford on Trial and Error, and it set of a bit of a chain reaction reminding me of other great TED talks I had seen that touched on this topic, and related topic of risk versus reward and top down versus bottom up engineering.

Burt Rutan talks about the future of spaceflight, and in the talk is some amazing statistics on the success versus failure rates of early airplanes (30,000 attempts, a handful of successes). He calls this ‘Natural Selection’ – but it is basically just another person talking about the importance of Trial and Error.

One more for the stack, Kathryn Schulz talks about being wrong, not in abstract terms, but in personal terms. In the present tense, can you think of anything you are wrong about? It talks about the importance of stepping back from an idea, and detaching from the emotional impact of being wrong.

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