Trial and error trumps research

Successful entrepreneurs aren’t born out of study. The change they make cannot be learned in a book. It must only be learned through consistent trial and error. Which means coming to terms with failing more often than they win. And banking on the few wins being big ones – enough to keep them fed for years.

“Theoretical knowledge is inferior to the knowledge gained from experience”.

Nassim Taleb

The industrial revolution came from people without formal study. It was the tinkerers, often with jobs that allowed them the freedom to tinker, that changed the world as we know it.

I didn’t read a non-fiction book until I was 23. I was a terrible student, but at 23 I began to read books on business, marketing, psychology, science. By then I’d already started a business. And the business was working. 

I’m now theoretically smarter – I understand psychology, economics, neuroscience and many other theoretically important subjects. But am I any better at my job than I was six years ago?

I’m not really sure.

Perhaps the amount of time I spent learning has detracted from my focus on my most important tasks: selling better, marketing better and learning to build better.

Theoretical knowledge is fine, so long as it’s coupled with some form of practical doing. As Nassim Taleb says, you should never take advice from someone who gets paid to give advice. I don’t think you should take advice from yourself unless you’ve actively tested your hypothesis in real-life, through trial and error, until you come to the best possible outcome.

It’s only through doing that we can truly learn. It’s crazy that I understand how software is built, theoretically, but I still can’t, yet, build it. Although, I’m working on that one.

This is a warning to myself – to learn from the mistakes of my doing. Without that trial and error I won’t get to where I want to be.

We get smarter when we do. Sitting and thinking is nice. It’ll get us into some great conversations. And that’s fine. But for me, it’s not enough. And I feel I’m only just waking up to this realisation.

“Theory does not allow interaction with uncertainty.”

Nassim Taleb

Joseph Pack

I’m an indie maker with a CMO day job. Being blessed (occasionally cursed) with Asperger’s and ADHD means I view the world a little differently. If you found this article useful, subscribe to my weekly newsletter about creativity, persuasion, emotional intelligence and other essential soft skills.