Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Fall Down; Get Up

Anyone who tells you, "Get it right the first time!" has never been the first to do something. Sure, you can get something "right" if it's the first time you've done it; you can learn from others or follow instructions. And yeah, you can get novel things right as long as the novel doesn't stray to far from the known. However, if you've ever found yourself doing something significantly new, then it's pretty darn likely that your first attempt wasn't right, i.e., it probably didn't work.

In fact, your first attempt probably wasn't even wrong. Why? Because your first attempt didn't look anything like your final attempt. With each attempt, you learned about the problem and that influenced how you thought about the solution. The solution (the it you were trying to get right) changed.

So, not only did you not get it right the first time, but you didn't even get the right it to get right.

That's pretty much par for the course. It's how scientists/philosophers have been doing their things for thousands of years.

  1. See a problem. 
  2. Propose a solution. 
  3. Try it. 
  4. Learn from it.
  5. Go back to step 2.

It works well as long as you're not too concerned about getting it right. The problem is that getting it right can get in the way of doing it well. First, when you concern yourself with getting things right, you wear yourself down; this makes it difficult to persist. Second, getting it right tends to limit it; you get attached to a specific approach or solution and, rather than letting the solution morph, you stick with it no matter how unlikely it is to work.

The second phenomenon is the plague of modern "science". Researchers submit grant proposals to try a solution. The specificity of the proposal bounds the solution in ways that meaningfully limit it. The processes are often so slow that, by the time a proposal is funded, all the assumptions that led to the proposed solution have changed; new technologies have become available, new work has been done, etc. Nonetheless, the proposal was to do A, B and C. Therefore, even though you know it's not going to work, you do it.

A critical element of discovering/inventing really great solutions is be open to any solution no matter how how much you've invested in another. No one who's been first to do something will tell you to get it right the first time. More importantly, no one who's been first to do something will tell you to get the right it the first time.

Happy Wednesday,

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