The Narrative

When failure becomes knowledge

Look, I’m no scientist, but I’ve known a few! Each of us has a super power, and it comes into force somewhere between the hearing and the listening, and unlike some, I choose to listen to the scientists…

While reading Eric Jorgenson’s collation of articles on customer development, he asked: 

“Where are all the write-ups on invalidated Hypotheses? Would be as, if not more, instructive than success stories!”

That last question resonated with me, and if you’ll indulge me for a moment, I’ll explain…

I was once discussing “null” results with a friend who also happened to be a scientist, and she said: “Uh, we put the whole thing in a box!”

For me, that wasn’t the answer I expected.

“What if someone else came along and wanted to do the same research?” I asked, but she shrugged.

If you’re a scientist, a null result is worse than nothing, because it could hint at methodological problems, which would be bad. Assuming something had gone wrong, wouldn’t it be useful for others not to make that same mistake? Let’s face it, science is synonymous with learning, so it makes logical sense that there should be processes in place to capture failure as a legitimate learning experience.

The problems here are obvious, and struck a chord, because at that time I was beginning to expand on a personal project I’d been working on, one that helped me do research by transforming the notes I made with the web pages I saved into an interconnected narrative of the learning process, where everything — null results included — were kept, and remained discoverable.

I was at the time aware of the risks associated with walking down a forgotten path to find I’d been there before and that little or nothing had come of it. We so often lose sight of the value and the significance of what we’ve learned and achieved, and I wanted to build something that — were I a student once more — I could take everything I was learning then with me into the future, regardless of what path I took.

Truth is, everyone is a student of something.

While the venerable scientific process is adaptable, it speaks nothing of the research process, or the in between places where we fail to capture the things we’re learning and the valuable context binding ideas to their possible failure or success.

Today, this project is the Under Cloud, an attempt to create the ultimate digital research assistant for journalists, students, and software developers like me. I would love nothing more than to give a place for those null results, elevate them, and champion the value of failures!

Photo by Valentin Lacoste on Unsplash.