TITLE: Competence and Creating Conditions that Minimize Mistakes AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: October 22, 2016 2:00 PM DESC: ----- BODY: I enjoyed this interview with Atul Gawande by Ezra Klein. When talking about making mistakes, Gawande notes that humans have enough knowledge to cut way down on errors in many disciplines, but we do not always use that knowledge effectively. Mistakes come naturally from the environments in which we work:
We're all set up for failure under the conditions of complexity.
Mistakes are often more a matter of discipline and attention to detail than a matter of knowledge or understanding. Klein captures the essence of Gawande's lesson in one of his questions:
We have this idea that competence is not making mistakes and getting everything right. [But really...] Competence is knowing you will make mistakes and setting up a context that will help reduce the possibility of error but also help deal with the aftermath of error.
In my experience, this is a hard lesson for computer science students to grok. It's okay to make mistakes, but create conditions where you make as few as possible and in which you can recognize and deal with the mistakes as quickly as possible. High-discipline practices such as test-first and pair programming, version control, and automated builds make a lot more sense when you see them from this perspective. -----