Progress is seldom made in a straight line, instead it is a series of starts and stops. History tends to erase any setback from our view, we perceive the starting position and the end position as a narrow, deliberate path.
Clockmakers have known about this uneven course for centuries. The deadbeat escapement, the heart of a grandfather clock, is a mechanical assembly that regulates the swinging movement of a pendulum and transfers energy to keep the clock in motion. The device allows both the advancement and stopping of a gear that represents the passage of time, denoted by the second hand on the clock.
A deadbeat escapement is not self starting, and requires an initial push to begin the pendulum swing — just as our initial work requires a spark of innovation, some transfer of creative energy, to begin our efforts.
The hands of the clock travel in small advancements. Earlier and cheaper versions of the escapement mechanism did not prevent recoil, which you can sometimes see in the small pulse backwards of the second hand. Our solutions may contain these small pulses backward too, when we find we must retreat on an idea, or rethink the way in which we approach our implementation.
"Do not allow setbacks to set you back." - Stacey Abrams
Setbacks can be frustrating and rewarding. It is in these moments when we learn that we've spent time on the wrong thing, when our solution fails to achieve the objective, when feedback demonstrates we've missed the mark — that we expand our knowledge, enriching our experiences, and gain a purchase to explore new paths.
In the links below learn more about the inner workings of mechanical clocks and watch a short TED talk from the enlightening Stacey Abrams who shares three questions we should all ask ourselves about everything we do.
See the whole series by using the Paradox Pairs Index