Disenchanting failure [feature].

The Mars Climate Orbiter probe slammed into the surface of the Red Planet on September 23, 1999. The cause was trivial human error. While the probe’s software used SI units, ground control persisted in sending data. in feet and pounds. The mistake cost more than $300 million.

Coincidence and error are words that evoke different connotations, and when given as reasons for anything, they are nothing to be proud of. By making a mistake or achieving/losing something by accident we severely diminish our contribution and question our competence. Here we let ourselves be surprised by reality.

Meanwhile, such aberrations are behind many discoveries. Errors in reasoning have often pushed forward the cogs of civilization’s progress. For some reason, however, this subject is taboo, especially in the era of the cult of self-improvement and flawlessness. Error is something forbidden, undesirable, but is it right?

For example, the discovery of penicillin was led to by accident, even more – the usual sloppiness of Alexander Fleming. He kept in his laboratory many dishes on which he grew bacteria. Fleming had apparently forgotten about one of them so much that it had become covered with mould. When he came across it – he found that there were no bacteria around the fungus at all. Anyway, penicillin was likely to gain practical use much earlier – half a century before Fleming. At the end of the 19th century, Ernert Duchense, an army medic, described the bactericidal properties of moulds and even managed to get a doctorate on it. At the time, however, it was decided that his research would be of little use – just this time a minor negligence on the part of the reviewers.

Coca-Cola, on the other hand, found its use very quickly, although manufacturers initially produced it as a medicine. At a time when morphine was the fashionable drug of choice, addicts tried to pull themselves out of the clutches of addiction with another substance – cocaine. When this proved to be a dead end, John Pemberton, a successful addict of both substances, concluded that it was time to invent something else: a coca-based drink. The logic was the same as with nicotine patches, but the final product in a much more absorbable form. We still know how immensely popular the “medicine” containing 9 mg of pure cocaine was.

Mistakes and errors in reasoning were not avoided by the greatest. Galileo laughed at the idea that the moon was responsible for the tides. Kelvin refused to accept that X-rays were a fact. Albert Einstein was ready to revise his theory of relativity upon hearing that the universe was expanding. He could not accept the idea that the cosmos is not static, so in order to protect observable reality from expansion Einstein introduced the concept of the cosmological constant. Confronted with further discoveries, he later called it the biggest mistake of his life, although it is still an important element in the study of vacuum energy.

This enumeration could go on for a long time. And a good thing, too. It is worth remembering that the history of progress is equally a history of mistakes, errors and losers. I am writing about it because I am humanly annoyed with the failure being furiously demonized. I’m annoyed by the ubiquitous propaganda of success and the conspiracy of silence surrounding failure, this supposedly human thing. I’m overlooking the purely psychological aspects of not admitting to doubts and the stubbornness of the “everything’s perfect with me” lie. – It is a simple way to a nervous breakdown (and we have more and more of these in our nation).

Happily, the more enlightened ones are bringing to light the benefits of learning from their mistakes. On October 13, for example, a nice on-line event took place – “Day of Failure”. The initiative was launched by a “failureologist” Jarosław Łojewski, the head of the Good Failure Foundation. On the “Day of Failure” all sorts of benefits of messing up, giving up, and other life-and-death lip service are considered, and entrepreneurs, coaches, and even travelers and philosophers like Marek Kaminski help.

In a reality that does not tolerate stumbling, such a voice is an appeal to reason. I’ll admit it: I’m a corporate jerk myself and thinking in terms of 110 percent of the norm gives me goose bumps. However, I don’t consider my several-year affair with the corpo culture as an unnecessary experience, a stumble, or even a failure, not only because I met wonderful people, but maybe also because every experience, especially the difficult ones, is a source of knowledge.

What are the benefits of failures?

First – through failures, you learn more about your goals. Unraveling a mistake enables you to continue working more precisely. Second – you can test different solutions. In this light, failure is part of a planned exploration process. Third – you see what your limitations are and what knowledge you still need. This is part of a very healthy self-criticism. Fourth and finally, you can better understand what you really care about. Failure is nothing but negative feedback. If you have a bit of a healthy attitude and don’t assume you’re the best at everything and “uncritical,” you’ll learn from it and get more training. There is nothing unnatural about it.

The fact that we have to remind ourselves of this is largely a legacy of the modern Polish school, which simply hates failure and punishes it with, ultimately, non-promotion to the next grade. The red stripe is given to those who know the one and only right answer (and who only later discover that such thinking does not fit with the rest of their lives). School, and later also work, if they teach planning, it is mostly success planning. The pinnacle of perspicacity is listing points to tick off – with the tacit assumption that they will simply have to be ticked off.

The frontier, or crisis in stereo [feature].

We learn physics and biology (in which objectively there is nothing wrong, I actually liked these subjects), but there is no very useful subject “constructing a plan B, C and D”. As a society we have huge problems estimating risk and our thinking about failure is limited to “what if. ” followed by the sacramental: “let’s not bother with that right now”. The ether is constantly filled with slogans like “you can do it”, “I believe in you”, “we can’t afford to make a mistake”, “dude, you have to” and so on. We have tattooed in our hearts that the measure of success is victory and nothing else. We seemingly appreciate the attempts and the will to fight, but. where is the evidence?

I would venture to say that character is not built on victories. Victories often teach us to wallow in our laurels. Our response to defeat is probably closer to what we might call our true self. Maybe it should be a mandatory item on a resume? “Greatest failures and what they taught me.”

Finally: is it appropriate to wish for failures? Maybe not particularly. Nevertheless, I wish you, the reader, fruitful learning after each one. As one mentor in my areas of passion put it in a conversation with me, “the outcome can quickly surprise you.”

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