I really like a good podcast…and I heard one last weekend. It was the TED Radio Hour and the title of it was called “Failure Is An Option” (July 29, 2016).** For those of you who dig adaptive processing I encourage you to give it a listen. There were many great points throughout the podcast but I want to focus on just one.
The middle section of the podcast is about Tim Harford an economist and author who did a TED Talk called “Trial, error and the God complex” in 2011.* He begins the section by talking about the “God Complex.” The way I understand it…the God Complex is about the belief/perception that every problem can be tied up into a nice little bow – succinctly and decisively solved by an expert. In this paradigm of decision making the expert views himself/herself as “God” – having the ability to solve all manner of perplexing problem. But the God complex isn’t just about them…it’s about all the non-experts who surround them. These individuals support the complex by taking great comfort in the idea that the knowledgeable “God” person will be able to solve all of their problems.
Harford continues by suggesting that opposite the God Complex is a way of problem solving that has consistently tended to perform as well or better throughout history. It’s called “Trial and Error.” Surprised?! I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Generally speaking – it’s the idea that by testing many variations of solutions, bit by bit, progress can be made – progress that can lead to significant answers.
As Hartford extols the benefits of “Trial and Error” in his podcast he shares about times when he has been ridiculed for stating the obvious. Everybody knows the benefits of trial and error – right?
He’s not convinced.
Check out his response to those who accuse him of making a big deal out of nothing…
”I will admit (trial and error) is obvious when schools start teaching children that there are some problems that don’t have a correct answer. (When they) stop giving them lists of questions every single one of which has an answer and there’s an authority figure in the corner behind the teachers desk who knows all the answers and if you can’t find the answers you must be lazy or stupid. When schools stop doing that all the time then I will admit that – yes – it’s obvious that trial and error are a good thing.**
He continues…and this is the part that really grabbed me…
When a politician stands up, campaigning for elected office, and says ‘I want to fix our health system, I want to fix our education system and I have no idea how to do it. I’ve got a half a dozen ideas. We’re going to test them out. They’ll probably all fail. Then we’ll test some other ideas out. We’ll find some that work, build on those and get rid of the ones that don’t.’ When a politician campaigns on that platform – and more importantly when voters like you and me are willing to vote for that kind of politician then I will admit that it is obvious that trial and error works.”**
Hmmmm. I think I’ll leave us right there for now.
*Tim Harford: Trial, error and the God complex, http://www.ted.com/talks/tim_harford .
**TED Radio Hour, Failure Is An Option, July 29, 2016, http://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/487606750/failure-is-an-option .