Ted Talks: Trial, error and the God complex

Posted on August 2, 2011

The Ted Talks speech by Tim Harford is thought provoking for couple of reasons.

1. Path from complex to simple

To explain complex systems we simplify. Our simplifications are based on some assumptions and these assumptions get lost along the way. Now that the assumptions are hidden, we fall into the trap that our simplifications are exactly the way the world works. We figured out how the world works and this feeling leads to a “God complex”.

The term God complex is used to grab attention, IMHO. But you can plug in any other word like Know-it-all or expert or guru. Whichever word you use the characteristics will be same. It happens to everyone of us. My-idea-is-my-child-how-dare-you-call-my-child-ugly type of attitude. This attitude is not helpful since the complexity of the systems around us is increasing exponentially and a little humility is needed to know them better. Also, without humility you cannot succeed in your analysis or experiments and that brings me to the next reason why I liked this talk.

2. Success through trial and error

There is no failed experiment. Recall the famous words of Thomas Edison,”…found thousand ways of not making a bulb” or something similar to that. Basically saying that most successes are due to trial and error. Systems around us are very complex. Starting with humility is the first step. This will set you up with the right frame of mind because any experiment has a 50-50 chance of working. If you succeed in your experiment then that is good. If you do not succeed then you will not be devastated because you knew your odds. Only folks with God complex cannot take failure in the right way.

Thanks for reading and without further ado, here is the video

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