Words Have Meaning

Some say that I am only parsing words when I take issue with what they proclaim as the valuable post-modern learning concept of “the road to success lies in failure”, or “experiment to failure”, that by encouraging a more traditional, informative or positive use of the language, I am confusing and misleading people and need to “get with” the new program! 

Certainly, I am not an expert English linguist, I do not play one on TV, and I did not stay at a Holiday Inn Express(c) last night, so I do not claim perfect application for myself, either.  However, words have meaning, and the continual degradation of the best, demonstrated and long-understood meanings and applications of the language to such a point that words such as “failure” are used to represent actions to be celebrated as milestones of growth or innovation is what sows confusion. 

Deconstructive redefinition devalues the incredible richness that proper utilization of words and terms can bring to, for example, education, growth, and innovation.  When such redefinitions are adopted, history and literature that utilized the long-recognized meaning of the word becomes misunderstood and misinterpreted based upon the “new improved” usage and the door to grievous error is opened wide.

Contemporary confusion has become epidemic through misapplication of “neo-failure” terminology to other, related concepts, as well.

For example, Experiment versus Practice versus Trial

The methodology of experimentation is not interchangeable with the “fail and fail again in order to succeed” meme, which may more appropriately be seen as a negative inversion of a constructive “practice makes perfect” policy (and isn’t “practice makes perfect” more edifying than “fail and fail again”?).

Among other parameters, experimentation involves proper preparation – conceptualizing and defining a worthwhile and well constructed hypothesis, reviewing past work in the field, comprehension and specific application of related knowledge, obtaining and applying appropriate human and physical resources to undertake the experiment, providing a verifiable method using metrics and measures for recording processes and findings in a manner that relates to the range of potential outcomes, intentional or unintentional.  

Of course, an experiment can fail, an outcome most likely the result of preparation problems – the experimeter or the resources fail.   That is not a viable outcome, but can be beneficial toward preparing for a new attempt. Often, an experiment disproves the base hypothesis and may actually prove a completely different one – an innovation!  Rather than seeing such an outcome as a “failure” and losing the value of the outcome, such results (which are legendary in science, invention, art and society) ought to encourage design and preparation of an experiment to provide a means for recognizing and benefitting from those results.

Performing a Trial, a tentative method like a “trial run” to judge progress and effectiveness toward improving a condition or product is also different from either an “experiment” or “practice”.  The Trial is to test a hypothesis or construct, sometimes to the point of failure, as with stress testing of materials, in order to develop proper applications and set operational parameters to assure successful implementation.  Repetition of a Trial works to prove out the limitations established by the original and subsequent trials as assurance that the applications and parameters are correct and a prudent safety margin can be established to prevent “failure” in the future.  Paradoxically, in such circumstances, testing to failure is a success, since the goal is to set limits.  

It is time to reclaim a little reason, perhaps even scientific reasoning with its systematized experimentation, actually testing a hypothesis in the laboratory of real life, “the act of conducting a controlled test or investigation”, according to a host of on-line dictionaries.  And, hundreds of years of experimentation have provided some guidelines to help find the path to proving or disproving the hypothesis.  Sometimes the best that a system can become has a modicum of experimentation still present at the end of the day – sighting in a tool while allowing for wind, sun, temperature, altitude, for example, whether for golf, agriculture or defense.

Multiple dictionary sources have a constructive range of definitions and applications for experiment to use in this regard, including: 

  • To conduct a test or investigation; “We are experimenting with the new drug in order to fight this disease”
  • Testing of an idea; “it was an experiment in living”; “not all experimentation is done in laboratories”
  • Try something new to gain experience; “The composer experimented with a new style”
  • Venture at something new or different; “As an experiment he decided to grow a beard”
    (the above examples are cited from wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn)
  • In scientific research, an experiment (Latin: ex- periri, “to try out”) is a method of investigating causal relationships among variables, or to test a hypothesis. …
  • An experiment is any procedure that can be infinitely repeated and has a well-defined set of outcomes. Examples include tossing a coin or rolling a die.

It is time for introspection and reformation to correct the demeaning practice of “fail often to succeed” teaching, to return hope to those who now struggle under the power and control leadership of those proclaiming it, rather than wallowing in the limiting “I must be doing well, I’m failing again, right according to plan!”  

“Dare to Fail”? – Hogwash!

About randysrules

From a professional background in architecture, community and regional planning, urban design, leadership, and fine arts, this blog provides insights on ethics, leadership, architecture/planning/urban design, Venice, and whatever intrigues me at the time. Enjoy!
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