The Two Sources of Failure

The Two Sources of Failure

Failure to achieve an objective is due to ignorance or ineptitude.

The Two Sources of Failure

Whenever a person or group of people attempt to accomplish an objective, there is the possibility that the attempt will end in failure. Given that their objective is within a realm where control is possible, there are only two potential sources of failure: ignorance and ineptitude. Atul Gawande describes these two sources of failure like this (missing reference):

The first is ignorance— we may err because science has given us only a partial understanding of the world and how it works. There are skyscrapers we do not yet know how to build, snowstorms we cannot predict, heart attacks we still haven’t learned how to stop. The second type of failure the philosophers call ineptitude— because in these instances the knowledge exists, yet we fail to apply it correctly. This is the skyscraper that is built wrong and collapses, the snowstorm whose signs the meteorologist just plain missed, the stab wound from a weapon the doctors forgot to ask about.

Failure may be due to ignorance. The knowledge of what to do and/or how to do it is unknown to the ones undertaking the objective. Historically, this has been the most significant obstacle to achieving objectives.

In the Information Age and the rapid increase of knowledge globally, ineptitude is becoming an equally significant factor. In the past, the amount of information that was available to a person was inadequate and predisposed them to failure due to ignorance. Increasingly, the information necessary to avoid failure is available, but the ability to apply it correctly to a given situation is lacking.

How do we address both of these sources of failure? Ignorance may be the easier of the two to overcome, as it simply requires increasing the availability of information. Open Educational Resources, Wikipedia, and internet search engines like Google are all increasing the availability of knowledge, as well as the ease of locating it. Overcoming ineptitude may be more challenging because of the increased (and increasing) complexity of the world today. Ineptitude may be overcome by the use of checklists (doing the basics right) and the use of rubrics to objectively assess the results.

Resources that provide more information: