That’s nature: trial and error

Many seem surprised with the problematic launch of the Obamacare website and not only those with a political ax to grind. I’ve even heard Obamacare friendlies ask, How could government get this so wrong after hiring experts, spending so much money and having so much time to prepare?

I’m not surprised. It fits well with how I think the world works. Most things fail. Some things work. We don’t know beforehand which will fail and which will work.

I’m not surprised the Obamacare launch failed. Most new things do.

It doesn’t matter that it was government or not, since we live in a trial-and-error universe. Government and free markets are subject to failing more often than succeeding.

Few people see this trial-and-error process. We see success stories and forget the failures. We forget Starbucks wasn’t always big and had its fits and starts and still does. Apple, too. Every company did. And for every success story, there are numerous failed attempts of competitors that we forget about.

The one thing that is a little more rare about the Obamacare trial is that it is on such a grand scale. Again, that’s not unique to government. Plenty of companies have had big roll-outs of products or business plans they were certain would work, only to fail. JC Penney, anyone?

The error, though, that some don’t seem to learn from is that we should avoid doing new things on such grand scales because most things fail.

Start small, test it and grow it through the crucible of trial-and-error.

A Reason Organizations Fail

Thomas McQuade and Chidem Kurdas have a nice post at ThinkMarkets called Understanding Markets: Point/Counter-Point.  I’m sucker for points and counter-points.  I love that stuff. I don’t think we have enough of it in our society.

Though, in this case I found the title misleading.  I think the two had good things to write about markets, but I’m not sure it deserves the title.  Both authors admitted in the comments that their points were complementary, rather than counter.

Regardless, I found one nugget that struck a chord from Chidem’s part of the post:

Political powers-that-be controlled economic activity and did not leave scope for much innovation—indeed often punished innovators.

This struck a chord with me because I’ve seen this first hand in business.  I’ve watched good businesses lose ground because they came under the control of people who desired political power and suffered from the fatal conceit in believing they can take the business to the “next” level with their great ideas and careful guidance.

What they actually do is run the business for their own benefit and try out a narrow range of ideas — most of which are their own.  They ignore the true engine of innovation that could take the business to the next level — trial and error experimentation, lots of it.  Several years down the road, competition, where the true trial-and-error is takes place begins to take its toll.

I imagine this can be true for many other organizations.  Education seems to struggle with this.  Charities seem to struggle with this.  Government entities definitely struggle with it. Churches struggle with it.  Homeowners associations struggle with it.

This isn’t be surprising, since all organizations are manned by people.