Learning from Your Mistakes

Dear readers, I have nothing special to share with you today.

I had hoped to share my impressions of our first Blurb book, but it looks like it won’t arrive until at least tomorrow. (It’s currently at a FedEx facility in Connecticut.)

When the book didn’t arrive today, I had briefly contemplated writing about something that Christopher Hitchens said about burning the candle at both ends and how he might not actually change anything since it had given him a fair bit of enjoyment (and most likely esophageal cancer). It’s made me think about diabetes and the choices that we make — when we abstain and how we choose to indulge — but I just don’t feel like giving in to that line of thought on such a gray and gloomy day.

For a while I thought I might have to tell you about ending my daily exercise streak. I’m being very careful not to overdo it. So when I felt a twinge in my right knee a few minutes after I hopped on the treadmill after work today, I promptly stopped, walked across the basement, and did a free-weight/core workout. Let’s just say, doing crunches on the stability ball kicked my abs, though not as bad as the forearm plank. (My right knee has always felt a bit tight, and I’ve injured it before, so I’m trying to be reasonable in what I ask from it.) Anyway, the streak continues at 18 days.

I don’t really have much that I’m ready to write about today. So here is something from Wired magazine that I came across in my notes: Why it’s so hard to learn from failure, and how we can do it. (“Accepting Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up”) It’s quite a good article and includes this stand-out section.

The reason we’re so resistant to anomalous information — the real reason researchers automatically assume that every unexpected result is a stupid mistake — is rooted in the way the human brain works. Over the past few decades, psychologists have dismantled the myth of objectivity. The fact is, we carefully edit our reality, searching for evidence that confirms what we already believe. Although we pretend we’re empiricists — our views dictated by nothing but the facts — we’re actually blinkered, especially when it comes to information that contradicts our theories. The problem with science, then, isn’t that most experiments fail — it’s that most failures are ignored.

In order to take lessons from failure:

  1. Check your assumptions.
  2. Seek out the ignorant. Talk to people who are unfamiliar with your experiment.
  3. Encourage diversity. Seek out people with different sets of assumptions.
  4. Beware of failure blindness.
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