Feel free to err but always try to learn

  Feel free to err but always try to learn 

 Extracts from the article,  “Freedom to err and to learn”, in The Malaysian Insider by Hafiz Noor Shams


  • Failure is simply part of life.
  • A world without failure is a fanciful dream incapable of withstanding reality.
  • No matter how much failure hurts, it teaches us valuable lessons for future endeavours.
  • Do it enough while learning from it, and a pot of gold awaits the daring at the end of the rainbow.
  • Success and failure are just the result of competition for the best answers to questions that beset humanity.



Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the prettiest among them all?


  • In search for the best, somebody must lose.
  • Somebody must be in second place, or last.
  • Not all can take the No. 1 position.


Failures greeted us along the way before we succeed.

Failure led us to learn more about ourselves, our capabilities and our mistakes. 

The glorious discovery of scientific methods itself stands firm as a witness to the importance of failure: 

  • observe,
  • hypothesize,
  • predict
  • and test.



The whole process, to generalise it crudely,


  • is an exercise in trial and error.
  • Needless to say, repeated trial and error involves failures and successes.


Evolution, for one, is the great trial and error game. Since time immemorial, nature has constantly tried countless combinations to find the building block of life and reach where the whole earthly living world finds itself today. It is through evolution that nature finds the perfect fit for all. It systematically tries everything in its mind and systematically purges failed combinations in favour of the successful results from many trials.



  • Evolution is a competition of designs, as Eric Beinhocker writes in “The Origin of Wealth” 
  • Evolution is a contest to look for the best design and eliminate the failed ones.
  • The inherent Darwinism is harsh but trust the evolutionary processes to produce greatness by exercising the liberty to err and the liberty to learn.



The parallel is seen in the free market system.


  • Through the creation of free competition enabled by the free market system,
  • various ideas compete against each other to satisfy our needs, our demands and our questions.
  • The best ideas and decisions will be rewarded while the worst will be punished, as judged by participants of the market.
  • In other words, the free market mechanism simply adheres to the concept that failures eliminate the wrong paths. The free market is evolution.



An economic downturn occurs for a reason and each time it happens it is because of the mistakes which we commit.


  • The irrational exuberance of the 1990s, for instance, saw massive investment into businesses with weak models.
  • When these models failed as the market finally turned around to revolt against our acts of foolishness,
  • so too those who invested in it.


We then adjust our expectation to a more reasonable level.

The current economic crisis is characterised by failure to see the mistakes in time.


  • Mistakes of encouraging home ownership with disregard to creditworthiness;
  • mistakes of loose monetary policies to solve the previous economic downturn;
  • mistakes from leveraging too highly while failing to manage risk;
  • mistake of bad regulations.


When the mistakes converged as the fruits ripened too much to turn sugar to poison, the time for punishment at long last arrived.




  • There is no doubt failure is painful but we are only likely to learn something when it is painful.
  • The fear of pain will encourage us to not to repeat the same mistake.
  • We know fire is hot only after we have burned ourselves.
  • While we learn, we must remember that we are only humans and we are not perfect.
  • Some will learn and some will forget.
  • Some will learn to adapt and others will fail to do so.
  • For those who failed, the system will keep reminding them why they failed.



Mahatma Gandhi once said that freedom is not worth having if it does not connote freedom to err. Without failure, the free market cannot function on paper or in practice.


  • Without failure, the best cannot be found.
  • Without failure, there is an implicit assumption of the equality of results where everybody lives as miserably as the other in a dull monotony: at its centre is the equality of poverty.


We have seen how such systems failed to incorporate the very basic economic lesson — that individuals respond to incentive. We have seen how that has failed and how the human spirit revolted against it.


While keeping this in mind, one should be mindful of “missing the forest for the trees”.


  • The series of failure across the Pacific and its subsequent ripples spreading globally are not a failure of free market capitalism.
  • It is not a failure of liberty.
  • On the contrary, the series of failure is an automatic reaction against our mistakes.
  • The system is responding because we respond to events around us and that alone shows that the idea of economic liberty with its carrot and stick model works.

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