Thursday, January 24, 2008

Do you have the courage to make mistakes?

It goes beyond the realm of the merely unfortunate or ironic. A significant enduring impediment to progress is the reluctance to makes mistakes. The stigma exists as much in commerce as well as popular culture at large.

The explanation for this sorry state of affairs is simple. Mistakes are wrongly viewed by society as failures. Failures make people feel bad. In the 'feel-good' obsessed culture of a fragile-ego era, people want to be associated with successes.
Two important misunderstandings are being perpetuated here.

First, that failure is itself a bad thing. There is value in trying a course of action that does not yield a positive outcome. Appreciation of it however has been lost. How few of us really embrace Edison's edict that it took him 999 failed attempts to make a light-bulb before getting it right? The value of 'failure' goes beyond its device of eliminating possibility therefore narrowing the field for ultimate success; it is that often it is only through not succeeding that a true lesson is understood and a deeper appreciation of fundamental concepts is gained.

The second misconception is that mistakes are bad. Creative potential exists outside of intentions. Many discoveries have been made from the unexpected or unanticipated combination of elements or conditions. In short, they provide a tantalizing glimpse at previously undiscovered bodies of knowledge that have found by stumbling upon them. There is collective amnesia is work here and it is odd: many major accomplishments and creative break-throughs have come from mistakes yet they go unrecognized or unremembered.

In the right hands, or minds, mistakes can be a source of valuable creative possibility. Scott Adams sums the idea succinctly:

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.

Challenge for the day: take a mistake as an opportunity to look at a situation from a fresh perspective, one that could not have been planned. Interrogate what factors are operating or climate influences are in play that are condemning an idea or act as a 'mistake'. Perhaps it brings into question the validity of the operating principles themselves and unlocks new opportunities that previously would not have been seen?

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