Failure Is An Option

Failure is not an option available to most of us, most of the time. With people depending on us, it’s a luxury few can afford. As a consequence, we shoot for a minimum viable product, minimise risks and, often, minimise creativity. This is a crying shame. If we want to be better programmers, better modellers or better analysts, we need to have space to fail occasionally. The opportunity to “try it and see” is an incredible luxury not offered to many people.

This isn’t a defence of mediocrity or incompetence. Let me be very clear: highly capable, brilliant people fail at things they try. They fail because they take¬†risks. They push and push and push. They¬†find out a whole bunch of things that don’t work and- if they’re lucky- find the piece of gold that does.

In our general workplaces, we often can’t afford this, unless we are very privileged. I spent last week at the ROpensci Oz Unconference and failure wasn’t just an option: it was encouraged.

This was an incredibly freeing approach to programming and one that generated a wealth of creativity and collaboration. Participants were users of all skill levels from just-starting-out to decades-long-veterans. They came from diverse fields like ecology, psychology, academia and business. The underlying ethos of the conference was “try it and see”.

Try it we did.

We had two days of learning, trying, succeeding, failing occasionally and solving those problems until we succeeded. Thanks to ROpensci and to our sponsors: having the space and support to fail made exploration, learning and creativity a priority. It’s a rare luxury and one I’d recommend to everyone if you can!

If you’re just starting out: remember that it’s OK to fail occasionally. You’ll be a better programmer, better analyst or better modeller for it.