Philosophy, Society

On uncertainty, success and failure

The truth is, most things aren’t as predictable as we’ve come to believe them to be. There are just way too many factors at play, too many unknown variables, and too many variable we don’t even know that we would have to take into consideration.

As noted in these two great TED talks by Alain de Botton and Elizabeth Gilbert, our perception of who is responsible for our success has changed a lot. Before the modern era, poor people were called “unfortunates”, now they are simply “losers”, implying that it is mostly their own fault that they’re in this miserable situation they are now. Never before in history have we as humans believed so much in our own power to make informed decisions, to enforce our will on the world around us. Much was always believed to be in the hand of the gods or some other transcendent entity, but now it’s always our own fault when something doesn’t turn out the way it was supposed or planned to. In the tragedy, the ancient greeks had even an entire genre of drama dedicated to letting the audience empathically follow the stories of people that were simply struck by very bad luck.

It is true that the physical world at certain small scales is quite accurately modelled by sciences like physics and chemistry and that this has enabled us to achieve things our ancestor didn’t even dare to dream about. But the bigger and more complex things get, the harder to model them and be precise about them it is. Some might argue that intuition is better suited to the job then, but this is only sometimes true. Usually a combination of both, intuition and the scientific method, yields the best results. But still, usually things just don’t turn out exactly the way we predicted.

So should we stop trying just because the outcome is not as predictable as we’ve been led to believe? No, of course not. I think we should try nonetheless. And maybe we are lucky and it works. And maybe we fail and try to do better next time. And we fail again. And again. And again. And then we succeed. (Or at least we’ve helped others to come closer to the solution.)

Maybe rapid prototyping and short feedback loops help figuring out when we go into the wrong direction. And systems– and design thinking help seeing the bigger picture.


2 thoughts on “On uncertainty, success and failure

  1. Pingback: Gratitude and why you shouldn’t expect things to “just work” « I, mb2100

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