The Power of Negative Thinking

Huh what? Negative thinking has power? You might wonder. One Talin explains that negative thinking is very essential for engineers. He explains:

We know what happens when engineers only think positively:

  • The build bridges that fall down
  • They build trains that derail
  • They build space shuttles that blow up.

He goes on further:

In order to insure the integrity of their work, engineers must ruthlessly and relentlessly hunt down and eliminate their own errors. They must have a total commitment to the task of cleansing their design of even the smallest flaw. And they must resist the human temptation to take the short view, to say good enough too soon. Instead, they maintain an unreasonable persistence and patience, utilizing negative thinking, pessimism, and, perhaps, paranoia to assume there are still flaws remaining in the design even when there aren’t. Perhaps words such as paranoid and pessimistic aren’t correct, but they are words actual working engineers have used to describe themselves and their feelings towards their craft. What if the unthinkable really does happen? they say. What if all the backup systems fail?

He asks, “How do engineers develop these attitudes (that of paranoia and pessimism?). He says the entire mythology is with engineers:

One particularly strong mythic motif is exemplified by Murphyís Law, coined by a test engineer at Edward Air Force Base: If it can go wrong, it will go wrong. There is an entire panoply of corollary and associated laws, enough to fill a medium-sized book. The common thread that binds these laws together is the assumption there is something far more perverse than just the laws of random chance at work. It is a superstition, not only the source of much humor but also much utility.

A nice quote to be carried away from his work is:

Systems that work perfectly for the first time can make master engineers tremble with fear.

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