Go Forth and Fail

Nothing ever happened in this world without a million mistakes paving the way. Darwin understood this. The scientific method understands this. And so have many enterprising minds in Silicon Valley. So too, does Yours Truly: this web librarian in the midst of building a next-gen, bleeding-edge online library experience.

In fact, in this inaugural post for Fail!lab, I intend to layout a vision for library innovation that holds failure as it’s primary engine for innovation.

Take the case of Bill Gross of Idealab, who engineered failure into his methodology for developing things like super-efficient solar cells and hyper-aerodynamic cars. Actually, what Gross did was to take principles of evolution, such as natural selection and variation, and add direction to them. That is, rather than the rudderless process that characterizes evolution, he added human intervention to the mix: a sort of guided evolution where each generation of experimental models he developed always produced something closer to the ideal end-product.

Here’s the process Gross used to develop a hyper-aerodynamic car. First, he developed a “genetic algorithm” which took as its variables all the qualities and properties of a car’s design: the shape of the body, the number of wheels, the materials used, etc.

Gross then used a supercomputer to mock-up incredible numbers of variations of a car and then tested them virtually for aerodynamic efficiency, selecting the best two cars from all the varieties. Then, he cross-pollinated those two most efficient cars and produced another batch of offspring with which to test again. After running this for a billion generations, Gross had produced an incredibly aerodynamic car.

Everyone is now talking about the car that came out of those experiments, the Aptera. It gets a reported 230 miles per gallon and is 3 times more aerodynamic than a Tesla. Pretty nice. But you had to give birth to gazillions of failures to get there.

This is the central take-away that I aim to leverage in the library environment.

  • Rapid development
  • Extreme creativity
  • High probability of failure
  • High probability of innovation

Such will be the focus of this blog: monitoring trends in library web services, the general web and information technology innovation through the prism of lessons learned. I will also discuss my own efforts in my library, detailing my strategies, successes and, especially, my failures. And given my background in the tech industry itself, due space will also be devoted to developments in Silicon Valley and beyond.

One final note: to all the librarians that went to Internet Librarian 2010, you’ll also be wondering if there wasn’t a little inspiration from Fail Camp going on here. You got it! And thanks for cementing the idea in my head that failure is fruitful!

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One thought on “Go Forth and Fail

  1. Pingback: Failing Right « Fail!lab

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