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Embracing failure

The alternative to running out of steam is to fail better. Skeptics may wonder how to write a grant proposal where you promise to "fail better," or getting a job with a research strategy that lays out your program for failing better.

Yet, that is the right way to proceed. If you are reviewing a grant, you should be interested in how it will fail - usefully. Ask a candidate for a faculty position who has just presented his or her five-year research plan, what is the percentage of this that is likely to fail, otherwise it may be to simplistic. We often don't know what we don't know. The unknown will only be revealed by failures.

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MORE IDEAS FROM THE SAME ARTICLE

  • Recognize that failing better is not easy in the present culture. Pay attention to the failures - not to correct them, but because they make you go back and reconsider your long-held views.
  • Recognize the intrinsic value beyond just correction. Ther...

The quote, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” has become a staple of self-help and business books.

This will require the kind of revolutionary change in our perspective, comparable to a paradigm shift.

It's not just young scientists who have become failure-averse. As you move on in your career and have to obtain grant support, you naturally highlight the successes and propose experiments that will continue to produce results. The lab becomes a kind of money machine.

Many scientists say that science is about a pragmatic approach to putting pieces into a puzzle, and the more pieces you add, the more successful you are.

Scientists should embrace failing better. Failing better means looking beyond the obvious, further than what you know and what you know how to do. Failing better happens when we allow ourselves to ask questions, doubt results, and allow uncertainty.

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