FAIL: the new learning.

Danger of Death by Failing

The worst way to go.

I started my breathing, er, reading time today by digesting this post by Matt Zimmerman which analogizes (quite effectively) reading and writing to breathing air. His comment on deep understanding through sharing struck a cord with me.

I believe this is a key component of human interaction and the way our brains work.

When inside our heads, we condense information into shorthand. An Ubuntu developer has a deep understanding of what “maintainer scripts” means, and so we just use that term in our head as an assumption. When we make these assumptions, we must consciously decide to challenge them, and often then we challenge them with other assumptions.

This also leads to “groupthink” as he calls it, where a group of similarly trained/experienced individuals start to share ideas, but they keep the shorthand, and can’t understand why their idea goes in circles.

Divergent thinking, and true understanding, only come when an outsider, a novice in the field, enters the picture. These assumptions must be explained, and in the process, often our own brain is going to re-evaluate the assumptions naturally.

This is why failure leads to understanding. As upon failure, you must explain to those holding you accountable why you failed, which often gets you the “aha!” moment that you missed because you worked so hard in isolation.

I think this is the reason that community driven, open source development produces high quality software. Two years ago my C++ was pretty rusty, and I started modifying code in the Drizzle project based on their documented guides. It turned out that my novice questions exposed a few ambiguities in the guides, in their blueprints, and in the way they were thinking in general, exacting some changes and (hopefully) producing higher quailty software. In a less open minded project, I’d have been cast aside as a distraction or an annoyance, a road block on the way to the end goal.

So, the moral of the story is, meet confusion not with more deliberation and furrowed brows, but with a bull horn and wide open arms. Meet failure not with shame, but proud explanation. Find somebody who doesn’t know anything about what you know, and tell them a story. Listen to their questions. You might just figure it out..


Cars are so last century … but, so is Linux, right?

This past weekend, I attended the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show. I’m not a huge car buff. I do think that BMW’s are the bomb, and I like Honda’s common sense vehicles, but really, I am NOT a car guy. However, I thought this was an interesting chance to take a look at an industry that, in my opinion, isn’t all that different than the one I’m in.

Now, that may surprise some. Its pretty easy to think that I work for a super advanced company that has started a revolution and sits on the bleeding edge of innovation. I mean, at Canonical, we’re doing all kinds of amazing stuff with “the cloud” and building software that makes peoples’ jaw drop when they see it in action sometimes.

But really, I think we’re more like CODA. CODA has built what looks to be a sustainable, practical electric car. The car itself is not visually stunning, but the idea behind it is. Make an electric car that anyone can buy *and* use. Make it fun, and make sure the business is sustainable. But, in no way is CODA challenging the ideas and revisions that have worked for the 100+ years that the car industry has existed.

CODA is still putting a steering wheel, gas pedals, and gear shift in the cockpit for the driver. There are doors, wipers, lights, and probably floor mats. In much the same way, in Ubuntu, we’re still putting our software out there with the intention that, while its created differently, and affords the user more capabilities, it is basically driven in much the same way as Windows 7 or OS X, mostly as a web, errrr, cloud terminal.

The exciting part is that for $3 of possibly more efficiently produced electricity, you can drive 100 miles. Even more exciting is that the CODA might actually compete with sensibly priced  (but larger) Honda and Toyota sedans, rather than like the Tesla cars that compete with Lexus and BMW’s.

Given this way of thinking, the auto show was extremely interesting. The electric car (open source?) has “arrived”, and the established players are buying the interesting enabling technology like batteries (android’s linux kernel, darwin for mac, etc) from companies like Tesla, and putting them in their established products.

Whether consumers care about either open source or electric cars is another story.. maybe the 2011 LA Auto Show will have an answer for me on at least one of them.

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