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Why Scientists Need To Fail Better

Failing productively

  • 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. There is no way to predict which way a failure will turn out.

Failure is data. Failures lead to a fundamental change in the way we think about future experiments.

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Why Scientists Need To Fail Better

Why Scientists Need To Fail Better

http://nautil.us/issue/30/identity/why-scientists-need-to-fail-better

nautil.us

7

Key Ideas

Failure is different in science

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

But it is also the perfect quote to illustrate how what almost everyone else means by failure is different from what it means in science.

Failing better

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.

The way of science is not to stop failing once you've succeeded. Success has to be tested rigorously and considered for what it has not revealed. It has to be used to get to the next place of our ignorance.

A wider approach needed

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.

But this approach is driving science into a corner. We can't keep up with the exponentially expanding literature of ever narrower details. This approach is turning scientists more and more into a secret society of oddballs, tolerated because once in a while, some gadget or cure drops emerge out of the otherwise impenetrable machinery. This process is doomed to run out of steam, or bore us all to death.

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.

Failing productively

  • 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. There is no way to predict which way a failure will turn out.

Failure is data. Failures lead to a fundamental change in the way we think about future experiments.

The failure-averse

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.

Although these things will get you along day to day, they are an impediment to science as it is wasteful to have everyone hunting in the same ever-shrinking territory. Now and again, we have to venture out into the darkness where the likelihood of failure is high in order to expand.

Changing to "failing better"

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

Revolutionary changes often happen faster than "organic" changes. They may seem unthinkable at first, but once the first shot is fired, change occurs rapidly. Science is ripe for a paradigmatic shift on many levels.

SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

Fail Fast!

In our Success obsessed society, failure is rampant, as every successful person has a string of past failures, and may have been a loser before eventually finding success.

Learning from Failure

The person who eventually succeeds after failing is the one who is using failure to learn, as a feedback mechanism, and applying those lessons in his future decisions.

Importance of Failing Fast

Failing Fast is crucial considering the first lesson of learning and taking feedback from failure.

The speed of failing ensures we take the path to success sooner rather than being stagnated and then having to pay the opportunity cost. 

Our eventual success depends on our failing fast.

Failure

At some point in life, all of us have failed. It could be something as simple as not getting through a driving licence test or something as big as losing in an international competition.

F...

Failure is good in achieving success
  • Failure Strengthens You. Failure can tear you down but it also builds you to be a stronger person.
  • Failure Gives You a Sense of Direction. You get a sense of clarity on everywhere you have gone wrong and how to take a better path to reach where you want to be.
  • Failure Teaches You to Value all the right things in order to succeed.
  • Failure Gets Rid Of Fear. Once you are accustomed to failing you have nothing left to fear anymore.
  • Failure is an Opportunity. It shows us everywhere we might have gone wrong and gives us the opportunity to correct it.
  • Failure is an Experience and could give us a deeper understanding of life and alter the way we look at everything that happens around us.
Admitting Failure

Humans tend to blame mistakes on external events, circumstances and people. Admitting failure goes against our ego, as we think it exposes our incompetence, leading to potential loss of...

Destigmatizing Failure

Recognizing that failure is healthy and a normal consequence of working in a complex environment can help us look at failure as a learning process instead of dreading it. It also helps to let your failure(s) be out in the open, making them visible to yourself and others.

A public failure is a learning for all, as they learn to make errors and take ownership of their mistakes. Openly admitting your mistakes also sends out a strong message of your being courageous, humble and bold.

Admitting Errors 

Many mission-critical work environments report errors and mistakes on time. This is because the employees are allowed to commit and share mistakes, and report them without fearing that they will be sacked. This psychological safety is crucial to a healthy work environment.

It helps to know that failing is an inevitable part of our complicated working life, and aids our lifelong learning.

Long-term flexible commitment

What many people fail at with long-term commitments is that they make their initial vision too rigid.

Flexible commitment can help overcome this by bringing together two pr...

Walk the Winding Path
  1. Stick to short commitments. Get good at this skill before going further.
  2. Understand your goal at different levels. The highest goal should be fairly abstract.
  3. Set a much more specific agenda of how I could fulfill this.
  4. Have periodic reviews where you can change your direction and incorporate new ideas. 
  5. Don't let your reviews interfere with the short-term process of committing.
The winding path: Goals and projects
Imagine your ambitions on two levels:
  1. A goal level, which is big-picture and abstract. It has just enough detail to inspire, but not so much that you're stuck pursuing things that don’t matter when conditions change. 
  2. Underneath that, have projects: these tend to be short-to-medium term efforts you think will help realize the larger goal.

The flexibility of the system comes once one leg of a short-term commitment has ended. This provides an opportunity for pivoting and redirecting.

Bad behaviors cascade

That reticence to ever ask someone out on a date probably plays out in your failure to move to a new city, to take that new job or the timidity around your co-workers.

Standing out of the crowd

People don’t like it when someone changes or does something that makes them feel awkward or insecure. They will think he’s crazy, selfish, arrogant. If you want to do something incredible, you have to become comfortable with being different from the rest.

Nothing worth having comes easy

As cliche as that sounds. Most of us give up on something we’re passionate about too soon. But anyone who’s been successful has a tale of struggle and perseverance to share.

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Hack the 10,000 hour rule

This rule was developed by Anders Ericsson and popularized by Malcolm Gladwell and states that we need  10,000 hours of deliberate practice to succeed at anything.

This may create f...

Plus, Minus, Equal
  • Plus: Find mentors, real (maybe someone from your work) or virtual (from books).  Learn from someone with more experience than you.
  • Minus: Explain what you are learning while you are learning it. Teach someone with less experience than you.
  • Equal: Find people who love what you love and spend as much time talking about this shared area as you can.
Micro-Skills

Every skill worth learning has dozens of micro-skills.

List the micro-skills. Figure out what you are good at, what you are bad at, and how you can learn to be better at each.

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Reevaluate Your Course
Reevaluate Your Course

We all have patterns of thought, feeling and behavior that don’t serve us. These patterns are so dominant that we arch ourselves to continue on, even when running on empty, but rec...

Take a Break For Recovery

When you hit burnout, you become numb to the world; it’s difficult to feel joy and gratitude, which is what keeps you fueled in the face of challenges. So recovery means getting adequate rest and reestablishing joy to your life.

While recovering do things that make you happy, rather than things that lead to a sense of achievement. The former feeds your soul and the latter your ego. Also, get an accountability partner to encourage you to follow your impulses and do what makes you feel alive.

Rewire Your Brain For New Habits

Rewiring your brain, new neural pathways are formed to replace old habits of thinking. This phase is critical, because thoughts lead to emotions, which lead to behavior. To do that:

  • Keep a daily journal or meditate. Notice the repeating thoughts, especially the ones that feel heavy and make you anxious.
  • Daily, at the end of the day, list 10 things you’re grateful for. Gratitude can quickly shift your internal world.
  • Let go of your victim story. Remind yourself that you no longer want to be a victim.
  • Choose and test your beliefs daily.
  • Believe in something bigger than yourself. Faith in a higher power can be the antidote to two symptoms of burnout — helplessness and hopelessness.

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Lack of Willpower

It takes discipline and strength of character to effect a fundamental change in any of our ingrained habits, but once the momentum has been created, and the sense of satisfaction and well-be...

Poor Support Structure

Behind every successful person is a positive and reinforcing social structure.

Surround yourself with positive, reinforcing characters who want you to succeed and buy into your long-term happiness and fulfillment.

Unrealistic Expectations

If you are 50lbs overweight and give yourself five weeks to get ripped abs or tight buns, you are quite simply setting yourself up for failure.

This body is achievable, it isn't going to happen overnight, but if you set yourself a goal and motivate yourself it is achievable. 

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Being Mediocre

Most of us are in the 'mediocre' zone, making a living and trying to do our best in confining circumstances. We try to work, raise a family, and try to be happy.

Aiming to reach towards t...

Procrastination

Procrastination is generally looked down upon and thought of as laziness, but it is your body telling you that you need to back off and think about what you are doing. 

You should try and figure out why you are procrastinating, as it can be a symptom of something broken in your life.

Zero-Tasking

We all multitask at some point or the other, some of us more than others. Our attention and intelligence are deviated and substracted during multi-tasking.

Single-tasking is better than multi-tasking, as focusing completely on one thing at any given time is optimal. Even better is to move into silence and nothingness by doing zero-tasking. The more we zero-task (another name for mindfulness or meditation), the more we progress into creativity and excellence.

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Thomas Edison on failure
Thomas Edison's most memorable invention was the light bulb, which purportedly took him 1,000 tries before he developed a successful prototype: How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?”
Failure Is Life’s Greatest Teacher

Failure and defeat are life’s greatest teachers [but] sadly, most people, and particularly conservative corporate cultures, don’t want to go there...Instead they choose to play it safe, to fly below the radar, repeating the same safe choices over and over again. They operate under the belief that if they make no waves, they attract no attention; no one will yell at them for failing because they generally never attempt anything great at which they could possibly fail (or succeed).” 

 - Ralph Heath

Failure is essential for success
The prevailing school of thought in progressive companies—such as Intuit, General Electric, Corning and Virgin Atlantic—is that great success depends on great risk, and failure is simply a common byproduct. Executives of such organizations don’t mourn their mistakes but instead parlay them into future gains.

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