Single point of failure

The importance of being adaptable, and avoiding single points of failure.

Whether its academia or tech startups, having a diverse background can be a tremendous help. This is especially true for startups, allow me to explain. Historically, inspiration to crack some of the toughest problems came from unrelated areas and lately we have seen in academia, specialists in one domain enter a different one to explore what problems they can tackle differently. This ensures versatility as a person and avoids what we call a single-point-of-failure.

A single point of failure is when you put all your efforts in one area and then due to some problems, the single node which was carrying all the load fails and now your entire infrastructure is down. Let’s “humanize” this definition a little more, we can say that a single point of failure in the tech-world is being an expert in just one area but ignoring others. The ignoring others part is the problem here, it’s not about ignoring other subjects but very often this becomes ignoring people who follow other subjects, ignoring ideas and questions from other subjects and creating a line between you and them on the other side. Becoming an expert is great because you become good at the one thing that you do, but during your career at some point you will encounter an issue that you just can’t solve no matter how hard you try. When you are up against such a problem, a moment of inspiration drawn from something completely unrelated may save you. This way, you don’t become a single point of failure and you don’t fail leading up to a decrease in your overall productivity. Being diverse doesn’t mean to become an expert in multiple areas because that is seemingly impossible to do. Instead, being diverse means that you can entertain thoughts and questions from other areas unrelated to your focus. It means that you can look outside to draw inspiration to solve a problem that is incredibly difficult to solve otherwise.

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Living in one world, you develop an identity based on what you do, this can also be very dangerous because if the idea (the single node) that you are betting your identity on fails or more likely gets surpassed then you can imagine what happens to you. Diversity keeps life fresh, it keeps you motivated and also gives you bragging rights and all you need to do is to live a little more and get out of your comfort zone. Descartes realized the importance of our understanding being fragmented and it is really not much different from information silos that develop in a startup. It takes a person not ingrained into that system of working, a person who doesn’t have a single point of failure to come by and disrupt the industry.

I thought about this as I understood more bitcoin blockchain: The point in solving the Byzantine Generals Problem was to create a decentralized network where more than one node can verify any transaction. The same can apply to our own life too, relying on one node creates a single-point-of-failure whereas having multiple nodes helps create a life full of surprises.