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November 6th, 2018
We all make mistakes, and often it’s said that it’s only through our mistakes that we learn. However, mistakes have all sorts of qualities that may allow us to differentiate between types of mistakes. And if learning is a function of mistakes, then perhaps these differences in the quality of mistakes that we make can have an impact on the quality and speed of our learning.
Take for example the quality of duration. We can behave for any length of time in a way that we may look back on and see as a mistake. It seems obvious that any mistake would be ideally made quickly so that we do not live with some kind of aggregating consequence of mistake. While general, it seems fair to assume that the longer the duration of a mistake, the larger the consequences of that mistake. The logic here is that the sooner a mistake is rooted out of behavior or strategy, the more time can be spent on a better strategy or behavior that may result in the achievement of specific goals. This is essentially a pivot from one direction of behavior to another.
The image arises of going down the wrong road for a long long time. The more time spent going in the wrong direction, the more time required to get to the final destination.
We might ask then, if we seek to have the shortest possible duration of mistake, how does this change our relationship to mistakes?
If, for a moment, we take the common expression of ‘learning through mistakes’ as a golden rule, we can come to the inference that since learning requires mistakes, and we decrease the duration of our mistakes as much as possible, this gives rise to a greater quantity of mistakes. Essentially, by spending less time entertaining the direction of a mistake, we are afforded more time and opportunity to make other beneficial mistakes.
Chasing a moving target creates a useful image in this instance. If we glimpse the target and then keep our head down and run in only that direction, it’s clear than we will not hit the target since it is moving. This is clearly an unwise strategy. But, if we don’t realize that we are trying to hit a moving target, suddenly it is not so clear whether or not this strategy is bad. If however, we watch someone chase a moving target, like hockey players skating after the puck, we see a constant alteration of direction. Players are almost incessantly moving in new directions as they see the puck change direction. In the parlance of this analogy, we could say that every direction before the most recent pivot was a kind of mistake. It may have been virtually impossible to realize it at the time, but ultimately following such a direction would make a player look like a broken algorithm in a hockey video game: clearly a mistake. The reason why the concept of mistake does not resonate clearly with these previous directions is because the pivot of each player is performed so quickly based on changes in the environment. The action seems well centered in the present.
Unfortunately, goals in life are not as easy to see as a small black piece of hard rubber sliding across white ice.
More importantly, we may not realize that goals which may seem like static milestones, may in fact be more like moving targets. While geography changes slowly enough that it’s effectively static, and therefore it’s fairly straightforward to get from point A to point B, like going from Chicago to Paris, in comparison, milestones or goals that may exist at some point in the future are certainly more like moving targets; primarily for the same reason that the puck is moving around the ice rink: the people around us are moving and changing, and most of our goals as humans have to do with our relationship to those moving changing people. Money, for example, defines a type of relationship between people. We pay money for services, and presumably, those who give the culture tremendous gifts, like the Iphone, or the automobile, or a social media platform are likewise rewarded with money. It’s been pointed out that a technology or product can come about at the wrong time. An invention can come about before there is a real need for it, or long after it may have been useful.
Google Glass, for example was a much-hyped initial foray into augmented reality, and while virtual and augmented reality is still projected to be an increasingly large part of the future, Google Glass was a flop, simply because it may have been too early. In this case, the target of an augmented reality market was not in the present where Google thought it might be at the time. It akin to trying to shoot a hockey puck without realizing that it has drifted forward of the range of your swing.
Regardless of the goal or milestone, if it can exist at all, it’ll be found somewhere in the future, but which point of the future, and what we have to do to prepare and anticipate the situation where we might be able to succeed is extremely difficult to forecast. We are best served by paying close attention to the present, and exercising the ability to pivot as quickly as possible as we follow the scent of our goals. Pivoting quickly in this case means making mistakes, lots of mistakes. The only way we can afford so many mistakes is by ensuring we don’t spend too much time on any one mistaken direction.
This episode references Episode 72: Persevere vs. pivot.