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Testing and failing

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@espejelomarOmar U. Espejel

Llevemos la IA a América Latina!! y Escuela Latinoamericana de IA (ELIA)

It is not 'if I fail then I will do X'; it is 'when I fail I will do X'. Slightly changing her words, the phrase above belongs to Brené Brown, Dare to Lead, and they are perfect to start this short piece about testing and failure. Everything written is not my knowledge, but of great people like Jeff Hunter, John Maxwell and Brené Brown, I am just interpreting their wisdom. A special thanks to Shane Parrish, I have learned a lot from his interviews and comments.

Jeff Hunter, former Head of Recruiting at Bridgewater, in an interview for Shane Parrish's The Knowledge Project podcast (January 21, 2020), talks about the relevance of experimenting, testing. An experiment requires a hypothesis, observing the results, and then trying to explain what is observed. According to Hunter, to improve in any way, you must operate at the level of design of experiments. By definition, if your goal is to be better then your goal is to get closer to your potential. For this, your primary goal should be to place yourself productively in situations that force you to draw conclusions and reflect on them. You design your day (work, free time) as a series of experiments to find where your potential lies and how to unleash it. This implies not thinking of your days as a series of fixed goals but realizing that we are here to learnExperimentation involves learning and focusing on the process, a topic widely covered in the work of Shane Parrish.

John Maxwell, The Knowledge Project (March 31, 2020), attributes the success of his coaching company, one of the largest in the world, to an internally managed cycle of success. The cycle consists of five parts and the first is testingyou will never know if you are good at something unless you try it. Now, the more you try the more you will fail. But Maxwell emphasizes that failure is not the opposite of success, in fact, they naturally go together. "In every success, there is quite an amount of failure." The key is to learn from failure, if not, then it was useless. You go back into the ring, and fail again, and learn again. So on. It is a cycle that you don't want to stop.

You must continually test, push the envelope, have some failure, to learn from it, and prove yourself you can do it better so you can come back - Maxwell

It must be emphasized that you are not trying to fail for failure itself. "Experience is not the key to wisdom; it is the analysis of what is experienced" (Maxwell). The experiment does not end until the last and most important step is taken: analysis, reflection. The goal is the improvement and can only be achieved by studying the reason for failure or success.

Finally, for experimentation and reflection to be successful, we must enter the battle arena (Brené Brown's analogy) aware that whatever we are trying to undertake will not be easy, that we will fail and that it will hurt.

Allow ourselves to be vulnerable (topic widely covered by Brown) and know that it will hurt

It is a fact; there is no alternative. Maxwell mentions that the worst thing you can do when you want to develop tenacity is to think that the process of improvement is easy, that it will not cost hard work.

Again, failure is not optional, it is a fact we must accept; you will fail, you will fail, you will fail. Maxwell likes to share all of his losses so we can understand the process that he followed. His public speaking videos from 30 years ago were sad; his leadership was also bad. What he did have was a mind oriented to growth, to process, to learning.

In my case, I have seen this exemplified in my economics research. I have won two research awards, been second in another and presented in two major conferences; all while I was an undergraduate. 

For each of those small achievements, I lost three awards and garnered multiple minor mentions.

For every victory, I think that the cost will be six failures, at least. It is the balance to pay.

So what?

  • Enter the ring knowing that you will have to pay a balance of failures.
  • Failures go hand in hand with the victories you will have, think of them as payment.
  • Inside the ring, plan experiments, so you will find where, when, and how you are better.
  • You will fail, it is ok, it is the process.
  • Analyze the results of the experiments, so you improve much faster.
  • Design a new experiment and repeat.


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