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  • Writer's pictureSantiago Garcia

The Two Fs for Success

(F)EAR: Fail early and rapidly.

(F)OCUS: Follow on course until successful.

This is a mantra I practice during tennis matches with opponents who have strong skill-sets and a real possibility of defeating me. At times, some of the oppositions have technical and physical skills that are more refined than my own. The only way I have a chance of winning these matches are by identifying my opponent’s weaknesses and finding a way to exploit them. I do this by testing different strategies, prying at him until I eventually find one that works. The faster I recognize what isn’t working, the faster I can identify what will. Once I do, I employ this tactic (F&F) until successful, adapting and adjusting as needed to overcome whatever obstacles I face.

This concept of failing rapidly and learning from the immediate feedback is applicable to every profession. As a future human factors psychologist, recognizing and understanding how the human interacts with the world will be the basis of my profession and the focus of my work. There are many models and problem solving approaches that are effective in helping to understand human-interactions, the limitations of the human, and variables that influence design and performance. Each of these models and methodologies propose various strategies for tackling wicked problems, advancing and improving designs, and collaborating with the team. While each of these strategies has pros and cons, one of the primary takeaways and common denominators is iteration through a continual feedback system; acquiring information on what did or did not work, and adjusting accordingly to accomplish the goal.

When working with other systems engineering majors on group projects, we never seem to lack in applying systems thinking and holistically approaching the problem. In fact, we can get so caught up in trying to stay within the parameters of the systems process that we overlook critical external variables. Typically, our weaknesses come from failing to identify important externalities before running the project to completion. Many of the lessons learned from these projects come from feedback in the form of error-tracing (i.e., understanding sources of error and improving the design) after the final submission. One way to ensure we can do a better job of thinking ahead is by emphasizing a fail-fast mentality. This mentality is, “One which immediately reports at its interface any condition that is likely to indicate a failure.” In these group projects we typically continue with the selected process even though it may have important and easily recognizable flaws. Systems engineers must think ahead and ensure their system development plan recognizes the importance of failing early and rapidly.

As team-leads in system design, we will be tasked with many different challenges. When facing real-world wicked problems, looking for and identifying a single ‘right’ plan isn’t the most important piece of the puzzle. Having a single ‘right’ mentality is most important. The best designers recognize that iteration and collaboration are the essence of improvement.

Fail early, stay focused, and bring the best out of your team. If these things are happening, the rest will take care of itself.

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