If there is anything we have learned over the last decade, it is that mistakes are anything but simple. Just consider the economic crisis, which as Tim Harford, the undercover economist and author of Adapt: Why Success Starts With Failure, argues was only a crisis because the entire banking system had become so layered – one arm leveraged upon another – that there was nothing left to say except that the banks involved were “too big to fail”.
And that should have been our first lesson: nothing should ever be too big to fail. It is only in being too big (referring to individuals, one can substitute dependent, hard-headed, inflexible, and immune to feedback), that one requires rescuing. But the second lesson is that a system that depends on bailing out will always be at the mercy of the one limiting factor on which it makes itself dependent.
And here is the point we should have taken home: do not make yourself dependent on anything. Not fixed beliefs, pride, ego, inadequacy, or need for attention. Nothing is worth sacrificing the system (or the individual) for. Unless you want to live at the mercy of something that is –and always will be – out of your control.
Because the truth is, anything can fail. Even the best secured bank is not free from the financial whims of the market. And any beliefs – no matter how well tested they seem to be – can be fractured by the fragility of life itself.
And that is a good thing. The point that Tim Harford, Nassim Nicholas Talleb, author of Antifragile: Things that Gain From Disorder, and that, without which, the theory of evolution wouldn’t exist, is that evolution, growth, and learning from mistakes depends on being tested against environmental demands. And while evolution answers the question of which members should be spared simply and easily (death, if anything, is final), perhaps the lesson we can learn is that it is only through letting go of the ideas that don’t work that we learn from them. Contaminated ideas, just like unfit individuals and species, do not improve the overall.
Your errors, just like the errors of others, will give you information. It is only through errors that you come to know others – and yourself. It is only when someone is given the opportunity to commit a crime, violate a moral code, or do you harm that you come to know their character. And it is only through your own errors, that you come to know your own character. Because some people will violate moral codes, and similarly, some people will not persevere through their errors. The people that must be let go of, are like the ideas that didn’t work – you will be better for them. Start with 100 ideas, test them all, make yourself dependent on none, let go of the ones that don’t work, and you will learn from them.
Claire Dorotik-Nana is the author of Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks into Springboards. For more information on Claire or her work, just visit www.leverageadversity.net