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Learning from Failure

Tolerated failure imprints learning better than success. All human cultures have developed forms that allow stories of failure to spread without attribution of blame. Avoidance of failure has greater evolutionary advantage than imitation of success. It follows that attempting to impose best practice systems is flying in the face of over a hundred thousand years of evolution that says it is a bad thing.

Low probability high impact

In the majority of cases governments and industry assess risk based on a bell curve or Gaussian distribution. Now this works well for things like tossing coins, but when it comes to natural events such as earthquakes and floods its less effective. If we use a power law (or Pareto distribution) then a double log scale of size against frequency produces a straight line (shown below but wait for it), which matched on the the curve above shows a fat tail, as shown on the blue curve. So an outlier event, dismissed as an outlier on one distribution turns out to have a much higher probability if we use the more naturally occurring Pareto one.

Net effect of all this is that so called Black Swan events, or better low probability high impact events have a much higher probably than we thought.

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