Failure is often seen as a negative part of scientific discovery. Failure is inherently bad. But failure is not completely bad. When it is not a completely indomitable failure, it provides an opportunity for growth, and quite often is a stepping stone towards success, or brings you one step closer from achieving your goal.
This anthology is a collection of 15 carefully curated pieces which reflect the importance and the nuances around failure and its role in the scientific world. As you will find, failure is not only an irremovable component of science and progress, but a driving force into scientific discovery and advancement.
Continue reading “Scientific Anthology: Failure as a Stepping Stone”
“‘…I decided I would buy a used VW Rabbit. So, [before the IPO] I sold, i think, eight hundred shares for eight thousand dollars…After we went public, the stock price went up and up and up. At some point, those eight hundred shares were worth a million dollars. And I bought a used Rabbit for that, a million dollar Rabbit. Oh god!'”-Axel Ullrich, page 159
In the tumultuous world of Wall Street, anything could happen. Sometimes, the most unlikely companies rise to the top, multiplying in size and net worth over a very short period of time. In Chapter 6 of Genentech, we see Genentech go through such a transformation. Most of us remember this kind of growth happening in companies like Apple, Facebook, and Google as we were growing up. Wall Street continues to be a risky environment today, where budding companies “make it big or die trying”. However, Genentech’s success in this chapter seems unique, in that there was great interest in it before it had a product on the market. The company had no Macintosh or iPhone to sell, no social network making millions off ad revenue and growing exponentially every month. Genentech had nothing to sell, yet it had millions of investors interested in its future because of the innovative biotech the company was researching and the amazing applications that things like man-made insulin and HGH could have.
I think that Genentech’s success as an IPO is a sort of Cinderella story which shows the advantages of speculation and investment in a time when many of us are highly critical of Wall Street and what it does. While many will write off Wall Street investors as sharks looking for a quick buck to take from someone else, they actually have some amazing effects on our economy. They help keep money flowing into smaller businesses and help them grow into massive companies that hopefully do something good for our society. The amazing stimulative power of Wall Street is a major part of the success of almost every tech company. While the success of these companies (and also Genentech) is never guaranteed, I believe that those who invest in their risky excursions ultimately help the world become a better place.
“Genentech and the origins of biotech were far more than the successful industrial application of a novel technology. A concentration of political, social, and economic factors and strategic, scientific, financial, and business decisions molded, shaped, stymied, and encouraged Genentech’s rise to the temporary pinnacle of its stock market debut.”- Hughes, page 164
“We were young, and when you are successful, it helps enormously with your whole state of mind. It helps with your confidence; it helps with the publications you write; it helps with your future, with your career” – Hughes page 51
Being successful at a young age is something that we all definitely would like. In this book, these young scientists are making discoveries and working hard to achieve their goals. However, being young and successful also came with many fights. Since they were young and this was new stuff being tried, a lot of stress was added to their plates. So how much of this success was a blessing for them? Is it better to have a rough start and be secure about your decision making in the future? It does help in the confidence area, but it seems that the scientists in the group are being taken away from the point of their research.
“The plan was to exploit the rich opportunities for risk investment in the Bay Area. Arriving in 1970, Swanson encountered a thriving center of the microelectronics and computer industries in a region thirty miles south of San Francisco, soon to become known as Silicon Valley. It was without doubt the most entrepreneurial region in the world, boasting a refreshingly boundless, risk-tolerant, success-breeds-success culture in which an aspiring young person could spread his wings and try new things” (31).
In the 2 question forum, I asked questions into why and how California developed such a hot-bed for technological and other advancements in different fields. Silicon Valley, the most famous of any locations in Cali. in regard to technology. Clearly risk-tolerance, entrepreneurial culture, and relatively young people are the reasons for the success of the region. Also, the weather in California is probably a strong attraction for people to migrate to, especially from the colder weather of the east coast. “There’s something in the air here” may not be such an off phrase for “the most entrepreneurial region in the world” because of how people interact and network with one another. This area breeds innovation that has made it very successful, impacting people all over the world when you think about it. A 21st century, manifest destiny-type of migration will continue to attract young innovative people out to California, looking for ways to contribute to a region of success and influence.
“We were young, and when you are successful, it helps enormously with your whole state of mind. It helps with your confidence; it helps with the publications you write; it helps with your future, with your career” (Hughes 51).
This quote is taken from Heyneker as he recalled the thrill he felt when he learned that synthetic DNA could be immortalized. After reading this, I was curious to know the psychology behind success and failure and how it affects the brain and the body. I looked to the article, Psychology Today, for more information, and found some interesting facts. For example, psychologists study something referred to as the Cycle of Failure. This is the time period when failure sets in, resulting in various mental effects. The cycle progresses as follows: Unconscious fear, Wish Fulfilment or Desire to Fail, Overconfidence or Lack of Confidence, Perception of Failure, Anger with oneself and others, Sorrow and grief, Loss of Confidence/Motivation, Unconscious Fear. Clearly, this is a cycle filled with pain and general unhappy feelings, creating continuous domino-effect results in the brain. Another interesting concept I came across was that failure weakens our ability to think creatively due to the fact that once we fail once, we fear failing again. According to the article, failure we start to perceive failure as being too risky, thus we limit our ability to create new ideas. On the other hand, happiness obviously bears a more positive weight psychologically and ultimately gives us an advantage in life and work. According to Forbes, success results in increased motivation, self-confidence, improved leadership skills, and overall happiness. These ideas are interesting to consider as Genentech continues.
“The history of being spectacularly right has a shadow history lurking behind it: a much longer history of being spectacularly wrong, again and again” (Johnson, 134).
Innovative ideas, most of the time, come from a long process of trial and error. From a young age we are taught to strive for success and are often reprimanded for failures. However, success should not be synonymous with the absence of failure. Plenty of very successful people had to face multiple failures before they hit success. Even Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper company for lacking imagination and good ideas.