Learning from mistakes is more than just a catch phrase, it is an effective method to solve problems. In the English-speaking world it is known as the trail and error method. One of the bases of this method is the iterative process a cyclical technique where each step serves as the basis for the next, through testing, evaluation and refinement. Each iteration is a learning process, a progress towards the solution. What has been learned will serve as a source of knowledge to find solutions to new problems.

The simplicity of the trial and error process can sometimes lead to undervaluing a tool capable of finding solutions to complex problems. Through tests and iterations, the levels of the problem are broken down until the solution is reached.

This method has led to great achievements, whether it was the incandescent light bulb invented by Thomas Edison or the Wright brothers’ airplane. A modern example is SpaceX and the quest to find the best material for rockets, from the most complex carbon fibers to the most innovative steels to different types of aluminum.

These examples show that, in most situations, success is built on failure. The great novelist Samuel Beckett poetically wrote of the importance of error in the process of growth: “You tried. You failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” The trial and error technique consists of failing better and better until the solution is found. Progress occurs, rather than in leaps and bounds, through a constant iterative process until the solution is reached.

Scientific trial and error promotes creativity and flexibility, to overcome rigid mental schemes and not to fall into the tendency to explore paths based on cognitive biases and irrational behaviors. It is as important to explore new avenues as it is to discard those that prove to be unsuccessful. It is a dynamic process that evolves with each iteration.

Risk, success and failure

  • Error is one of the best ways to learn. It is not a failure, but valuable information to be used in the future.
  • The road to success requires trying new avenues that sometimes end in mistakes.
  • Risk, success and failure often go hand in hand. It is difficult to achieve a goal worthy of its name without first taking risks and failing.
  • Trial and error allows problems to be approached creatively.
  • There are exceptions where it is advisable to avoid trial and error, for example when defusing a bomb.
  • Applying this strategy does not require a great deal of prior knowledge but does require patience to explore different avenues.
  • To a certain extent, the evolution of living beings is based on trial and error; successful mutations are those that survive.
  • Risk should not be shunned, but it must be weighed so that, in the event of failure, it does not cause more harm than good. The iterative, step-by-step process minimizes this threat.