Departing DARPA Director Regina Dugan’s TED Talk: Don’t Fear Failure

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
March 27 2012 12:20 PM

Departing DARPA Director Regina Dugan’s TED Talk: Don’t Fear Failure

Earlier this month, we learned that DARPA Director Regina Dugan is Google-bound. Before the announcement, she took to the TED stage to deliver “From Mach-20 Glider to Humming Bird Drone.” In the 25-minute talk below (rather lengthy by TED standards), Dugan shows off a humming-bird drone and a thought-controlled prosthetic arm—and argues that DARPA’s success comes from not being afraid of failing. “When you remove the fear of failure, impossible things suddenly become possible,” Dugan says. “I’m not encouraging failure. I’m discouraging fear of failure.” To support her argument, Dugan goes through several DARPA projects that became successful only after some (in many cases, several) false starts. Watch:

This isn’t a new theme for Dugan. In a June 2011 interview with the Wall Street Journal, she used much the same language:

It's understood that for us to have those really big wins, we're going to have failures as part of that. Failure isn't the problem. It's the fear of failure that's the limiting factor there. We have to push through. We say at Darpa, you can't lose your nerve for the big failure, because the nerve you need for the big success is the exact same nerve—until the moment you know which one it's going to be. Not before.
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A very similar line about “big success” and nerve also showed up in an Oct. 19, 2011, Fast Company profile. It's a great sound bite, so we don't blame her.

Failure is having a bit of a moment: See also Tim Harford’s Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure and the advent of FailFaires.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies. 

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