The Need for Failure

You are six years old. You want to ride a bike. You get on; you wobble, fall and scrape your knees. You give up. But then you really want to ride a bike. So you try again. Bravo! soon enough you become a cyclist. Without learning how to balance, trying this way and that, the injuries and the resulting learning you can’t become accomplished. But now, you are zipping about the park showing off to your mates.

You have become a highly successful failure.

In technology and innovation we dwell in some kind of purgatory, a world awash with initiatives, conferences, academic research and increasingly outlandish digital images and concepts. And yet we achieve so little transformation.

We can see the bike; we’ve designed it, we’ve done the maths and modelled how we could ride one in computational fluid dynamics. But we are never taken to the park and given the space to get on and have a go.

We are not allowed to scrape our knees.

We, as a business community, have become so full of the fear of failure, that we don’t even try to get on the bike. Maybe we don’t really want to ride a bike.

The shipping industry contents itself with the truism that it is the most efficient form of transport and so, concludes it has less need to change. But pressure is building, even from within. At last week’s MEPC event at the IMO in London, Tony de Brum, The Marshall Islands Foreign Minister made a rare appearance by a politician in a forum dominated by industry voices and registry officials. Mr De Brum’s nation is the third largest registry in the world, and his country is being swamped by rising sea levels. He said: “We are an island nation and shipping is one of our lifelines – we cannot survive without it. At the same time, carbon emissions, including those from shipping, pose an existential threat to our people and our country.” The Marshall Islands tentatively asked the IMO to “start the process to consider” a CO2 emissions target. The bureaucrats weren’t convinced and after an hour and half of discussion shelved the idea.

To meet internationally-agreed targets limiting global average temperature rise to 2C the global fleet needs to be at least twice as efficient by 2030 than it is today. Dr Tristan Smith, lecturer in energy and transport at the UCL Energy Institute, UK, said this is significantly more stringent than the levels currently being debated and urges the industry to close the gap."Having an agreed goal of how shipping will need to change over the next 35 years is a small but important part of the discussions that are needed," he said, "but however the discussions resolve, the planning for change cannot start soon enough - if it's going to have a minimum of disruption on international shipping and global trade."

There are a plethora of new technologies currently in late stage development applicable to shipping that would enable the sector to reduce carbon, whilst also saving fuel costs and so become more resilient in an increasingly volatile world but little appetite to go beyond the theoretical in case these technologies don’t turn out exactly as we expect. Launching a new piece of tech into such a wide and interconnected system as global shipping is bound to lead to unexpected consequences. We can’t believe that those unexpected consequences might be good ones and we fail to grasp that if they aren’t then failure is about the most important lesson on the route to success.