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Thoughts on Failure and Doing Stuff

December 17, 2009

I wrote last week on the advice to “just DO stuff” and in that continuing theme, I bring you today’s post.

On the way into work this morning, I heard an interesting spot on NPR Morning Report. They were talking about a power company called Solaren, who have been working to put a solar energy power station in space, which makes a lot of sense, since solar power is pretty abundant up there.

The basic idea is to capture the solar energy in a satellite, and then have the energy beamed down to earth in radio waves, much the way Satellite TV is brought into our homes.

Gary Spirnak, Solaren’s CEO, says that it’s not too much of a stretch, technologically, to get a solar rig to beam energy back down to earth, the question comes in how to get the rig into space in the first place, and is it possible to do it cost-effectively.

I have to admit, the whole idea is pretty awesome. The report on NPR says that the idea itself has been around for a while, but I’d never heard of it before.

But as I was listening to the end of the report, and the doubts that some people have about the idea’s cost-effectiveness, or the return on investment for the shareholders, or whether it will actually work the way they think it will… and I couldn’t help but think that we should just try it anyway. Okay, sure, it’s not my money that would go to pay for it, but even if it was, I would say go for it.

It may not work the way they picture it working. It may not work at all. But just by doing it. Just by getting the device into space we will learn something. In failing, if it fails, we will learn something about what we can do to improve it. Or maybe this aspect of it will work, but a different aspect won’t, and then we’ll be able to try again and do it better. Because that’s what science is all about.

More than that, though, that’s what LIFE is all about. And I think people forget that. I certainly forget that. If you have an idea, you should go for it. Try it, even if you think it might not work or it might be wrong. Yes, the idea might not work, or might fail utterly, but it’s important to try because in failing, we learn so much. Failing may well provide other solutions that we wouldn’t have been able to even imagine before we tried, and it may point us to something different that will work even better.

There’s only so much you can plan for, or anticipate, when thinking about something theoretically. Only when you do something do you really get a sense of how it all works and what you might be able to do differently or better the next time.

And so, my musing for the day: Just do things, and don’t be afraid of failure, because that’s how we learn the best. Cliched, I’m sure, but no less true for all that.

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