I Want To Fail At Life February 2012

Fail now, succeed later. That’s my philosophy. I’ve been thinking about the word iteration lately, and it won’t leave my mind. It all started as I was researching ways to code faster and found a life changing anecedote:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

This is true of software engineering; might it be true of other things? Everything? For starters, there’s a reason that investors value past failures in entrepreneurs.

The same applies to life lessons. If you focus on getting your first anything right, you’re bound to fail: the fallacy is the assumption that you have enough information to perfect it when such insight is simply impossible. If you have succeeded on first attempt, it was a matter of luck.

This is the same philosophy behind the good old objective scientific method: isolate variables to learn about the unknown. In the case of life, it’s about learning, and you can’t isolate variables without failing. If you spend five yeras theorizing about what you want to do with your life, you will have some good ideas, but you won’t know for sure. If you pick the top five things that you think you might want to do with your life and try them, you will immediately be able to eliminate those variables and know with confidence whether those are good plans for you.

There is a secret behind this too. As a species, we live in the same universe that is dictated by the same variables. This means we can learn from each other. A scientist will try many things and fail before she is able to isolate the unknowns, but she probably had a good idea of how to run the experiment from prior knowledge and experience. The same applies to life: trying a bunch of shit is the key, but there is still an art to learning from other people’s past experiments. The most successful people have apprenticed the best experimenters, then continued those experiments themselves.

With that said, I say go out and be scientific about life. Fail, and have fun doing it. If you haven’t sucked at something, gotten dirty, pissed someone off, gained some enemies, and lost some savings, then you’re doing it wrong.