Every venture that could go wrong is in reality a hypothesis. Each time I carefully mix cream, sugar, and egg for a creme caramel and put it into the oven, I am running an experiment.
This is a radical shift in perspective.
I use to get frustrated when the final product did not turn out the way I wanted, but now I get curious. I realize that the model in my head of how the ingredients interact or how I thought I put it together is wrong. My expectations did not match reality. And so I wonder what might have caused the problem.
Seeing every meal I cook as a hypothesis also helps me to improve the model in my head. Each time I change something, I see its effect on the other end. Had I retained my previous view that every failed dish is a failure of me, then I might never have discovered the effect of mixing egg with the hot cream or the variable nature of my oven’s temperature. Eventually the model in my head becomes good enough that I can speculate more accurately: what if I halved the sugar or added more egg white?
We sometimes put too much stock into our successes. When the economy was good, it was easy to find a job and so we attribute it to our own amazing ability and rest on our laurels. When the recession hit, we realized that we were woefully unprepared and scramble to learn… quickly.
It may be a universal truth that we learn more from our failures than from our successes. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that it’s easier to learn from failure because a failure is usually caused by one or two key variables whereas a success has multiple factors involved. If this is true, then like engineers, we must learn from past failures not just in our own lives, but in others as well.
As Henry Petroski says in To Engineer is Human,
“Engineers increase their ability to predict the behaviour of their untried designs by understanding the engineering successes and failures of history. The failures are especially instructive because they give clues to what has and can go wrong with the next design – they provide counterexamples.” (p. 105)
Doesn’t this suggest that we should do better at learning from the successes and failures in all sorts of areas in our lives? From the small dishes that we cook up for dinner to the kind of life that we lead, we would do well to treat it as a hypothesis in constant need of exploration and investigation.
Chris Hsiung BSc. CPCC
Chris Hsiung is the president of U Venture, a consulting practice that helps entrepreneurs and professionals develop their adaptive learning capacities to navigate uncertain times and build meaningful life ventures. He graduated with distinction from the University of Calgary in Electrical Engineering and is an internationally certified coach through the Coaches Training Institute (CTI). He is also a student and teacher of curriculum at Leadership Calgary and at Momentum.