Tim Harford on ‘Trial, error and the God complex’

(source: www.ted.com)


TEDGlobal 2011, 18 mins

Economics writer Tim Harford studies complex systems — and finds a surprising link among the successful ones: they were built through trial and error. In this sparkling talk from TEDGlobal 2011, he asks us to embrace our randomness and start making better mistakes.

 “I’m not trying to say we can’t solve complicated problems in a complicated world. We clearly can.”

Tim Harford’s talk explores our fear of being wrong and trusting those who accept that they can be wrong. ‘I don’t know’ is a phrase that causes indigestion, in any language. It’s hard to say and it’s extremely hard to be patient with a person who says it.

His talk obviously skims over the great debate: Is it ethical in scientific studies? And with a business edge his praises for exploitative billion dollar businesses (like Unilever) that have embraced the ‘trial and error’ module of solving problems is…well, problematic. Because, the capitalists don’t need any more ideas on how to make money or rather take it away from ‘the others’. We already live in a highly complicated consumerist world.

However, what is more important in his talk is that he calls for an attitude change. Humans as a species need to let down their hair, relax and learn to say: “I don’t know the answer. But I might have solutions that I’d like to try.”

Many people actually agree to him, like in Richerramblings, the biochemist blogger says,

“I’ve always subscribed to the train of thought that a mistake isn’t a mistake as long as you learn from it. In fact, it’s often possible to learn more from a mistake than it is from getting something right the first time.”

Can we go a step further and ask – What is “right” and what is “wrong”?


Tim Harford writes on the economics of everyday life. His books are ‘The Undercover Economist’, ‘The Logic of Life’, ‘Dear Undercover Economist’, and ‘Adapt’ . Read more of his work here.  

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One thought on “Tim Harford on ‘Trial, error and the God complex’

  1. creates…creating…created…? «

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