I have a stuffed doll that talks when you put pressure on his chest. He says a number of things in a sequential order. And as I cleaned up my work environment the other day, he went off and wisdom spewed from its tiny microprocessor sound chip mouth. And it got me thinking. It stated the following:
if you don't know how to do something...then do it quickly
And that's some of the best advice that I've heard in some time from anyone, or anything. So let's talk about that today, because learning to fail is incredibly important for a fulfilling life of growth and knowledge. Particularly if you're just starting out in the tech world.
If you're a programmer you might be familiar with the following scenario. You hear about some new trending topic, such as Machine Learning or AI, and you find it interesting enough to Google it for an hour or two. Then you read some documentation, see an example, and realize that it's much tougher to implement than you had realized. Many a time, you move on and go back to your usual coding which you're a wizard in and know like the back of your hand.
don't be the smartest guy in the room
This equates to being the smartest person in the room scenario. You avoid the tough route, which would challenge you and make you feel a few steps below where you currently are, in exchange for the familiar where you're a champ. Familiarity is safe, but it also puts you in a box and prevents growth. And once the box is filled to capacity, you pretty much can't move anymore in any direction.
Which is where doing something quickly comes in to play. If you don't know how to do something, you haven't failed enough at doing it to realize what needs to be corrected to make it work. And the only way to see that, is to fail, and fail often. So whatever it is that you're trying to learn, jump on it quickly. That same moment, fire up the IDE, or notepad, or install the software and start typing. And don't stop typing until you pretty much have to.
If you're still interested in that particular idea after this round, then congratulations, you've broken through that barrier that prevents so many people from learning something new and growing. Go forth and enjoy it. Learn to live in it and to continue to burst through barriers, until there's no box left and you can go in any direction.
But do it quickly. That's the trick. If you want to learn to skateboard, but are telling yourself that you'll get to it when the weather clears up and when you can afford a nice shiny new deck, then your passing up on that immediate interest. Maybe in the moment you're interested in an activity, but by the time the weather clears up, it will have lost much of its luster. Not to mention, if you start NOW, by the time the weather clears up you'll already be comfortable riding around town after having fallen once or twice.
And the same logic is applicable for anything that you wish to learn. If you want to learn a sport, then go play a round with someone and embarrass yourself temporarily. But keeping this topic technology-centric, if you want to learn a new programming language for example, then start right now. Download the software and run a hello world application.
This is a trick that I used in college many times. Read a book incredibly fast, just skimming through complex parts but getting a general idea of the entire thing. Then when you're done, sleep on it for a bit, a few days maybe and then jump back and read it again slowly. With a general idea of the entire thing, believe me, your brain will remember, you'll be able to take in more information much easier.
It's the same principle at play. Give your brain and body a general idea of an activity. Let the neural pathways start to form, give it rest, then exercise again. It's the best way for the brain and body to work. Your current strongest skills were at some point non-existent. There was a day when you had 0% knowledge of it. And from one moment to the next you began to study and learn it. Now it's your strongest skill. An old saying goes "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The 2nd best time, is now".
So go forth and fail quickly. You're going to fail if it's your first time. And by fail I mean you won't know what you're doing and your desired outcome won't be as accurate as you had aimed. So miss the mark, adjust, and then try again.
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Walter G. is a software engineer, startup co-founder, former CTO of several tech companies and currently teaches programming for a coding bootcamp. He has been blogging for the past 5 years and is an avid BMX rider, bio-hacker
and performance enthusiast.