I am reading Randy Pausch’s book, The Last Lecture. It has made me laugh, cry, and provided many opportunities to think about my own experiences and those of others. The chapter, “Be the First Penguin” is about learning from failure. He says, “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you wanted.” True.
Randy Pausch’s life was wrapped up in computer science and virtual reality. With that in mind, I think about several years ago when I was teaching a course about the Internet. We did some exercises demonstrating one big item holding up many items is more likely to cause a crash of everything than when several groups were holding up several groups of items, one crashes and all the others remain intact. The reason for this exercise was to demonstrate the creation of the Internet. The Internet was deliberately constructed as a de-centralized network. In this way, the creators reasoned, if one part of the Internet failed, the entire network would not be vulnerable.
Yet, I think about Pausch’s idea of rewarding failure and what comes to mind is the banking and finance system created as a centralized system. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce rewards politicians today who are willing to prop up centralized monopolies in business today. Then, I think about the banking crisis of 2008. Both Bush and Obama were forced into propping up failing banks because, as we were told, “they are so big that a failure would have ripple effects across the economy.”
Too big to fail! In my mind, I wonder if failure is being taken to extremes. “Become a CEO of a huge bank and you can do anything you wish to do – even fail – and nothing will be done about it.”
The “father” of capitalism, Adam Smith, had some things to say about speculation – the kind the big banks and financial companies encouraged. What did they have to lose? After all, they knew they were too big for anyone to do anything, so fail, fail, fail. Did these guys care that millions of people would be adversely impacted? No.
The Internet was created as a de-centralized network because people actually thought it would be good to protect the assets involved in the system and to protect millions of people – in case of failure. In this case, the creators of the Internet prepared for the event of failure. In the same manner, when we teach our little child to walk, we remove the obstacles which might hurt them when they fall. We prepare for failure by placing the child in an area which is more protected and away from sharp edges of furniture, etc. The Bush administration, in the name of non-regulation, refused to prepare us for failure of the financial systems in the USA. Millions of people are being hurt in the aftermath. Oh, times may have been good while Bush was in power, but the hand-writing was on the wall and he refused to read it. Obama took over and was fearful of the monstrosity of centralized banking allowed to exist – by his predecessor.
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