I think there are two primary reasons why humans fail at intellectual endeavours. One is ignorance and the other is ineptitude. I'm not pointing fingers, I'll be the first to admit that I've been guilty of both; so relax. This dichotomy was laid out in the excellent book titled "The Checklist Manifesto" which I recently read, so I'm borrowing the idea here and I'm not trying to be overly detailed. As I think back to my experiences I can probably lump each failure I've witnessed into one of these two categories and leave the discussion of the finer details for another time.
Ignorance is lack of knowledge, and ineptness is clumsiness. If you are inept, chances are you'll suffer self-inflicted ignorance and be unaware of the knowledge you require to be successful. However if you are not inept and explore all opportunities to discover the required knowledge, ignorance can still be a contributing factor to failure. So ignorance really ends up being a root cause that's sometimes unavoidable. Research projects, in my mind, usually tackle issues related to ignorance. Most other projects deal in some way with resolving ineptness. Some examples to illustrate my point: There's probably a great way to cure all forms of cancer, however we are ignorant of it so we need to research and uncover it. Building a bridge over a river is in large part an exercise in avoiding ineptness by referencing previously disseminated knowledge about the proper way to build a bridge.
I think that ineptitude can be mitigated by evaluated experience. Experience by itself means nothing, but experiences that you later reflect on means everything. If you have 20 years of "experience" it might as well be worth 1 year of experience if you just kept repeating the mistakes of the first year over and over. The importance of evaluation of experience was recently highlighted in another book I just read "Leadership Gold". Sometimes we all watch people with lots of "experience" act very inept. The truth is that they might have spent the time, but they let it pass them by. John Maxwell explained it better.
So how do we combat ignorance? By sharing knowledge. I'm only a few paragraphs into this post and I've already explicitly mentioned two recent books that have helped. There are probably thousands of others that have influenced me or influenced other people that have influenced me as I try and write down this thought.
Some advice was given to me when I was much younger and is the real point I'm trying to make with this post:
"It's fine to have a young body, but there's no excuse not to have a 5000 year old mind."I forget who told me this, it's been a very long time. But this line has stuck with me and been a driving mantra. The wisdom of the ages is available at our finger tips and it's our job to find the best parts of it and apply them to our endeavours. To not do that is an inept and clumsy way to live.
Here is General James Mattis summarizing the concept: "The problem with being too busy to read is that you learn by experience (or by your men’s experience), i.e. the hard way. By reading, you learn through others’ experiences, generally a better way to do business, especially in our line of work where the consequences of incompetence are so final for young men." http://www.businessinsider.com/viral-james-mattis-email-reading-marines-2013-5
If you're reading this post, you've probably already figured that out. Find somebody in your life that is young and give them the good news. They don't have to wait through years of experience to get access to wisdom. They can get to it right now.