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Examples of the high cost of certitude

One critic of the time called Leo Tolstoy’s masterpiece Anna Karenina “sentimental rubbish.” Brahms was called an "incomprehensable terror," and one critic predicted F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby would have a short season of fame because “what is not alive cannot very well go on living.” A more recent example is the movie “The Matrix,” which raised science fiction movie making to a new level, but was highly underestimated by many critics when it came out.

What do these examples have in common? They all presented something new, something that the world has not seen before. They defined a new area or a new form and, exactly for that reason, they became great works of art. These critics were just a little too set in their ways, too sure of themselves, says Bradley Jones, Distinguished Research Fellow and keynote speaker at Discovery Summit Europe.

 It is important to question perceived truths and to try new paths, say Bradley Jones.It is important to question perceived truths and to try new paths, say Bradley Jones.

Bradley is responsible for the development of new methods in design of experiments. He is used to thinking outside the box. But even he admits that he falls into the trap of being too sure of himself. Here are three situations where he says he was wrong in design of experiments:

  1. When his boss, JMP chief architect John Sall, proposed developing tree-based data analysis tools in JMP, Bradley’s response at the time was: "I tried that in my last job; it’s just a great outlier detector.” Today, the Recursive Partitioning platform is a powerful part of JMP. 
  2. He initially found supersaturated designs utterly ridiculous. They are now established designs and a part of JMP.
  3. He used to laugh at foldover designs. It turns out that what was to become his most famous type of design, the definitive screening design, is indeed a foldover design.

Bradley explains that, especially in science, it is important to question perceived truths and to try new paths. Nobody likes to be uncertain, and change is hard. But if we are too sure of ourselves, we will not learn, and we will not move forward.

A final piece of advice from Bradley: The next time you see or hear something that you cannot quite take seriously, think again. Open your mind. Don't be so sure.

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