How to Fail Productively

by Veronique de Rugy

The Undercover Economist Tim Harford has some ideas about how to fail productively. In this short video he explains how understanding failure is the the key to understanding success. Basically, he observes, there are people who fail and know how to turn their failure into success, and then there are those who don’t. He gives three principles that are key to failing successfully.


Harford has a new book coming out on this issue. It’s called Adapt, and if it is half as good as the rest of his work, it will be wonderful. I just pre-ordered it for my Kindle on Amazon. Tyler Cowen reviews (sort of) Adapt here.

Here is, by the way,  a great blog post by Harford about why as economists and policy pundits we are all far too sure of ourselves.

Politicians are creatures of certitude: they join a tribe of like-minded people, convinced that the tribe on the other side is wicked and stupid. The media love certitude, too. Newspaper editors hate headlines with “may” or “might” in them.

For these reasons, the scholar who is honest about her doubts will find her work ignored in favour of some clever-sounding chap who just seems to know so much more about how the world works. (How else could he be so certain?) Brilliant scholars with strong, clear views, such as Milton Friedman, John Maynard Keynes and Paul Krugman, enjoy larger followings than brilliant scholars who deal in doubts and complications, such as Elinor Ostrom and Thomas Schelling.

On that point, Greg Mankiw’s column in the New York Times yesterday listed three questions to which economists don’t really have an answer.

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