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Prove Yourself Wrong

"If anything can go wrong—it will." This simple statement of Murphy's law looms large in the rocket scientist's consciousness. In the early days of the American space program, there was another saying, "Ours always blow," which meant that you could count on our rockets to explode every time.

This school of hard knocks (and violent explosions) was particularly difficult for Americans to bear because of the dramatic successes being enjoyed by the Soviet space program. Eventually, our rocket scientists learned that nearly every system had to have a backup system, that all calculations had to be checked and double checked, and that nothing could be taken for granted—except human error.

Rocket scientists are thought to be geniuses who never make mistakes, when in reality they are human beings who make spectacular mistakes. Their errors are cataclysmic, expensive, even deadly. And, at least in the American space program, these disasters were public.

Rocket scientists are intimately familiar with failure. For this reason, they have learned to deal with mistakes—to avoid them if at all possible. They have been humbled by experience and in their new-found humility have learned that they must rid themselves of error—they must find the fault within themselves. They must seek to prove themselves wrong.

This fault-finding is nothing new. It is a basic tenet of science to propose theories that can be tested, that can be proved wrong. Carl Sagan was a strong proponent of the philosophy of Karl Popper: that no theory is scientific unless it can, in principle, be proved wrong. Scientific theories must be testable. Richard Feynman described this attitude of science as one of bending over backwards to prove itself wrong. Only after all attempts to disprove a theory have failed do we start to consider the theory a credible one.

So, if you want to think like a rocket scientist, swallow your pride and try to prove yourself wrong.

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