Engineering Without Fear: If You Knew You Couldn’t Fail

Because nobody likes going back to the office on Mondays, here’s a short article and video to inspire and remind you why being an engineer is still the greatest gig out there.

What would you attempt to do if you knew you couldn’t fail? That was the question posed by Regina Dugan— the first female director of DARPA, and now senior executive at Google—at a TED talk earlier this year.

Dugan started work at DARPA in 1996, where she was the program manager of the Dog’s Nose Program, which created technology to detect land mines. Since the beginning, she pursued action in innovation, driving those around her to do things otherwise thought to be impossible.

The New York Times describes Dugan as someone with a knack for inspiring, and indeed insisting on, creative thinking, with an ability to see the world in nontraditional ways. And that’s spot on. At a conference hosted by General Electric in February she stressed the importance of getting people excited about striving for the impossible in a non-constraining environment. And part of that is removing the fear of failure, Dugan says.

At the TED talk Dugan highlights DARPA’s current aviation projects, showing exactly what can come from pushing the limits of possibility. Take for instance DARPA’s hummingbird drone, a light omnidirectional flying machine weighing less than a AA battery but strong enough to carry a camera.

Not content with mastering the air, DARPA’s also creating a synthetic adhesive that will enable soldiers to scale buildings without ropes or grappling hooks. The Z-Man program is researching geckos, specifically how they are able to suspend their body weight from a single toe. UMass Amherst, as part of the project, has developed Geckskin which is so effective that a 16-inch piece is able to hold a static load of 660 pounds.

And how about a prosthetic arm controlled entirely by thought? DARPA’s investigating the “language” between the brain and limbs which makes normal movement possible. By connecting the brain and prosthetic limb together via a computer chip amputees can manipulate their prosthesis, and it’s hoped paralyzed individuals may be able to obtain independent control over their communication skills and physical movements using the same technology.

Impossible, improbable, inevitable. That’s how Dugan explains the progression of programs at DARPA. Fear of failure is the only thing standing between us and everything we ever dreamed of doing. You can’t make exciting things without failing now and again, but that failure is insignificant in the pursuit of the extraordinary.

As Thomas Edison once said, “If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.” So what are you waiting for?

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