Karl Popper


Happy Belated Birthday to Karl Popper.

One of the intellectual founding fathers of embracing failure. Some of the big names and minds who explore and advocate variant forms of embracing failure (eg. Soros, Taleb, Raymo) cite Popper as a seminal influence. He popularised “empirical falsification” (ie. you can not know with any certainty that a proposition is true; you can only know it is not true) which sits at the heart of scientific method, and promoted an ‘open society’ which embraces the failure of political leadership.

George Soros shares many insights about Popper in Soros’ book The Age of Fallibility

  • “[Popper] argued that the Nazi and Communist ideologies have something in common. They both claim to be in possession of the ultimate truth. Since ultimate truth is beyond human reach, both ideologies has to be based on a biased and distorted interpretation of reality; consequently, they could be imposed on society only by use of repressive methods. He juxtaposed a different principle of social organisation that is based on the recognition that claims to ultimate truth cannot be validated. Popper called this principle ‘open society’, and he held it out as preferable to definitive design…Popper proposed a form of social organisation that starts with the recognition that no claim to the ultimate truth can be validated and therefore no group should be allowed to impose its views on all the rest.”

Soros’ applied Popper’s management principle to his own large organisation he calls the ‘Open Society Foundation’

  • “That is not to say that my foundations are perfect. They proceed by way of trial and error, and errors abound. I am ready to accept errors and to abandon projects when they fail. This gives us comparative advantage. Bureaucracies find it difficult to admit failure; this makes them risk-adverse. We can tolerate risks; therefore we can reap greater rewards….Democracy is capable of such achievements. It gives free reign to may be regarded as the positive aspect of imperfect knowledge, namely creativity.”

Popper would have to be heralded as one of the patron saints for my blog as well since his two major contributions – empirical falsification and open society – address embracing failure and parallel principles applied to leadership and management.