If At First You Don’t Succeed, Fail, Fail Again

Those of us who train, who teach, who expound, who dismiss, who certify, who denigrate, who endorse, who critique, who claim, who dismss: all of us, are wrong

The problem is, as Kathryn Shulte points out in her excellent book (and shorter TED talk), we know exactly what it feels like to be wrong: it feels like being right.

We insist on being right; we wave away the easier goal of being useful.

What’s useful? If you have them, ask your kids: when you give your son a ride to the mall, agile right wrongtake your daughter to her soccer game, you’re being useful and all parties agree. But wait: shouldn’t your kids figure out how to get around on their own, in preparation for later life and to develop a sense of self-reliance? Shouldn’t we shun the polluting automobile and use bicycles or the ultimate good-for-the-planet means of propulsion, walking? Here we can easily find ourselves wrong or right or undecided. Useful is easy; right is hard.

Or impossible. I’ve given, a half-dozen times, a talk called “Bugs Do Not Exist.” It’s the fastest way to rile and annoy a group of tech types, because in it, I maintain that “bugs” aren’t mistakes or errors, merely undone features. The problem is, many of us got into technology of computer progreamming because computers are appealingly and solidly binary: they exist in the realm of right and wrong. Computers do what you tell them to do, and either it’s what you intended to tell them to do, or it’s not. Achieve the former state and we’re overcome with the bliss of control, satisfied with our power to define correctness

Trouble is, even the programs we write (I almost typed “right” there), even those intended only for ourselves, inevitably encounter people. And people aren’t right or wrong.

We got into the business of right and wrong, and now we find ourselves in a world where we long to be right. And we fail. We fail. We fail.

That hurts.

You don’t need me to tell you that progress often is impelled by failure, or that failure itself is often the discovery we sought. But we can all use examples, and reminders. So go watch Steve Jobs tell a Stanford University graduating class about how his brilliant career and well-lived life was shaped, even created, through repeated failure and unintended results.

And then go out and have the guts to be wrong again, to fail again, to try again. Because if “being Agile” means anything, it means that.

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