Thursday, 29 December 2011

TEDCEMBER: Trial, error and the God complex

TEDCEMBER hasn't been going well for the past few days. I've been watching the occasional video, but not finding anything interesting to blog about. I'm happy to say that Tim Harford's talk - Trial, error and the God complex, is an exception.

In Tim's session he describes what he (or a Doctor called Archie Cochrane) termed the God Complex - The absolute infallible belief that you are right, irrespective of the complexity of the problem. I blogged about something related here. Tim argues that our economy and interactions are too complex to understand, predict and control. Instead he suggests we already have a system for solving complex problems - evolution. Variation and selection. Trial and error.

Trial and error should be encouraged within our social, business and political systems. Criteria for success (and the mechanism of measurement) should be decided in advance. Feedback should be sort and acted upon as quickly as possible - the most important discriminator for a successful evolutionary system is the time taken for it to adapt. Most importantly we as individuals must learn to tolerate failure. Not the monumental failure of our government funded IT projects, but the small, correctable failures that enable us to evolve systems that reliably solve problems of a complex nature time and time again.

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