Being a scientist requires having faith in uncertainty, finding pleasure in mystery, and learning to cultivate doubt. There is no surer way to screw up an experiment than to be certain of its outcome.
Stuart Firestein: Ignorance: How It Drives Science (via kateoplis)


BRYCE DOT VC: Everyone Fails


Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes has struggled with his ambitious solo start-up, the social network for activism Jumo, ever since its bumpy launch. Waning traffic and disinterested users were making it obvious that the site wasnot going to catch on, despite multiple redesigns; a tough pill to swallow for the wunderkind whose second act after Facebook, online strategy at the Obama presidential campaign, was another huge success story.

I recently spoke with a friend who said you should dedicate at least 4 to 5 years of your life to each idea/business you start. If at the end of that time period, it’s not working, move on. Considering we all work about 40 years of our lives, that means we’ve got about 8 to 10 ideas/businesses we can start in our lifetime. That’s extremely humbling. Eight to ten is such a small number.

I don’t talk about it much, but I failed pretty big. Hello Health was my baby. I went for it. I stood in front of the world and said this is going to revolutionize healthcare. It’s going to restore the good old-fashioned doctor-patient relationship, create a new business model for healthcare, and give doctors a new reason for doing what they do.  It seemed the whole world rallied around me and this idea, no matter how naive I was. We opened up two practices in NYC and three amazing doctors helped us start the dream.  It worked for a while. I’m not going to go into the details of what happened, but it can best be summed up with this:

A technological solution to a political problem will fail almost every time. 

The first Hello Health office was a block and a half from my home. Every time I walked by that place, I was smitten, full of such pride and excitement. Now it’s “Williamsburg Day Spa.” Every time I walk by that, I feel deflated. But Hello Health is still going strong. It’s not a failure, just a change. My co-founder and his team are pushing ahead navigating some political land mines and changing strategy. We’ll see what happens. And, of course, I wish them all the best.

But I personally failed. I wanted Hello Health to be everything I dreamed it could be. That won’t happen, not in the way I envisioned it. That’s personally deflating and almost embarrassing.

I don’t have Chris’ track record. Although I count him as an acquaintance since he’s been at a few of my backyard BBQs, I admire him for his fortitude. When the world first heard about me, I surely wasn’t Chris Hughes. I was a young house call doctor fresh out of residency at Hopkins who started an interesting new practice. I was essentially a nobody. 

But I’m a doctor, an entrepreneur, and a mission in an industry that’s probably the hardest to create a meaningful and scalable business. I’ve dedicated my life to making the world a healthier place. And, of course, in doing so, making a living for myself. I failed once, but there’s no way in hell I’m giving up. Grant and I have been taking our time to develop our next big idea. And we’re just about to get started. I’m even more excited about this business, since it’s much more refined, much more doable, and has all the wisdom and experience we’ve gained in playing around in healthcare for the past 10 years. So cheers to round two!

Jay Parkinson (PopTech 2008) on failure. 

It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can be a catalyst for profound re-invention.

New release! Psychology professor Kevin Dunbar studies how scientists approach the unexpected and learn from mistakes. Over the course of a year, Dunbar’s team studied the habits of four molecular biology labs. They found that those labs most successful at turning mistakes into new theories tended to be more diverse and willing to take risks.

Embracing Accidents: Tea Towel Errors - PSFK

Designer Pieke Bergmans has created a series of tea towels, intentionally including irregular patterns in them. Designed for the Textile Museum in The Netherlands, Bergmans says her creation has been infected by the dreaded ‘Design Virus’ and that she wanted to embrace rather than discard irregularities in her collection, aptly named, Tea towel Errors.

Maybe Willy Loman Wasn’t a Loser


Julia Baird on how the recession is redefining failure.

We’re picking up what you’re putting down.

Accept Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up

Article by 2009 PopTech speaker Jonah Lehrer that heavily features the work of PopTech 2010 speaker Kevin Dunbar, a psychologist who studies the neuroscience of failure.

Photo credit: Edwin Roses

We are thrilled to announce that the extraordinarily innovative band, OK Go will be joining us for PopTech 2010.

Register for PopTech 2010.

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The Writer’s Almanac | Jan. 28, 2010 

It was on this day in 1754 that the word “serendipity” was first coined. It’s defined by Merriam-Webster as “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.” It was recently listed by a U.K. translation company as one of the English language’s 10 most difficult words to translate. Other words to make their list include plenipotentiary, gobbledegook, poppycock, whimsy, spam, and kitsch.

Between now and PopTech 2010 we’ll be exploring the theme of Brilliant Accidents, Necessary Failures, and Improbable Breakthroughs and we want your help. Have you come across any great quotes or examples of the role accidents, failures and serendipity play in success?

Why The New Project Frightens Jonathan Coulton


My old boss is working on a new album and I am excited for him. He is terrified and I find his terror comforting in its honesty. Sometimes I wish people talked about this stuff more (this stuff being change, regrets, robots):

1. I barely know anything about playing the electric guitar. For instance, what is an “amplifier?”
2. I’m not sure I can write good songs anymore, and suspect that my best work is behind me.
3. I’m not used to spending money on talented musicians, high quality recording equipment, and fully licensed audio professionals.
4. I fear collaboration with other musicians who might be more talented than me.
5. I’m afraid that even a small change in direction is going to disappoint some fans.
6. I’m worried that even a small change in direction is going to make some aspect of my business not work anymore and that I will have to get a real job.
7. Like most rational humans, I’m pretty sure that I am basically a fraud, and that this move will finally expose my fraudulence for all the world to see.
8. This probably will involve a label and some other new business things that are new to me, I don’t even know what to say about that.
9. Change. Mediocrity. Backlash. Bad reviews. Effort. Internet comments. Mistakes. Regret. Robots.
10. Number 10 is secret.

Jonathan Coulton sounds ripe for some brilliant accidents, necessary failures, and improbable breakthroughs. As long as the songs reflect the honesty we’ve always loved, we’ll be happy.