Lockdown learning: #7 Trial and error


A short series of 2 minute observations…

What have you got up to in the ‘free’ time that you have had in lockdown because you are not seeing people, going shopping, travelling or eating or drinking out? Maybe you have used it do some DIY, go cycling, do jigsaws or crafts or maybe you have indulged in baking.

In our house baking has taken the biscuit (!) as activity of choice and there has been a lot of experimentation.  We have seen different breads, blueberry & almond, and banana cakes, cookies and soft amaretti biscuits amongst other things. The latter particularly caught my attention.

These soft Amaretti are a mixture of ground almond, sugar, liqueur, salt and egg whites .They are mixed and then baked at a low temperature to produce a fantastic taste and texture.

Yet how did anyone come up with this recipe?

At first, it must have seemed an odd thing to do with valuable ingredients. Why mix pulverised nuts with just the egg white and then both salt and sugar? Then you decide to heat it up – for too long or with too much heat. When a black mess or a bucket of goo appears you then must throw it away. Your friends will think you are slightly mad, especially when, having done this,… you repeat the process, ruin more good food and create more mess.

It is daft. It provokes the same sort of mirth that  Bob Newhart generated in his sketch about  Walter Raleigh telephoning Queen Elizabeth I to explain the value of tobacco or the ridicule that must have provoked Thomas Edison’s famous quote that, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”.

and yet… without someone trying to do something new and failing – again and again  – we would never have got soft Amaretti. It needed  curiosity,  creativity, an understanding of  the ingredients and then persistence (bucket loads) …until it worked.

From the outside this wasteful trial and error looks foolish but it is essential. All technical progress happens like this.

We can use recipes (like businesses use strategy) – to derisk things. We can systematically track and test to improve productivity and enhance understanding. But fundamentally progress belongs to those who are prepared to try it.

From outside, it looks like a waste of money and time – especially if it takes many repeated attempts. But without it there is no progress. Indeed you go backwards when others do and undermine your product or methods.

Covid-19 has encouraged many people try new things – at work, at home, with friends, for others, for fun, to help or to grow.  From it trial and error becomes test and learn.

If you haven’t, I am sure there is still opportunity.

If you have, the challenge is to make best use of the learning in the future…