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Meaningful Mistakes

The air was bitterly cold that foggy December morning, the street was lined with locals buying their winter breakfast from makeshift cafes but all I can remember is the rush of excitement I was experiencing as I rode my bicycle for the first time that morning. I had finally broken free, I was doing it on my own and I didn’t need my dad’s supportive hands any longer, he had taught me well and the feeling was exhilarating. In that precious moment the many times I had fallen, the countless scrapes and bruises and the long frustrating hours of failure, mistakes and futile practice runs seemed to disappear in an instant!

All through our lives, at every important juncture we obsess over our mistakes. As students, a mistake indicates the possibility of lower grades. Good students don’t make mistakes. At home, mistakes lead to punishments. Good children follow the rules. At work, mistakes have serious repercussions. Good workers get it right the first time. They rarely make mistakes.

But, in those very schools and organizations where we are marked down for making mistakes, we also learn that people often stumble upon great inventions. There’s growing evidence to suggest that innovation flourishes when people are given the space to make mistakes. Even Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Edison and Isaac Newton attached value to experimentation and discovery through one’s mistakes and failures.

Why then don’t we allow, much less encourage, making mistakes? Most of us, particularly adults, fight shy of them. We believe that people will see a faux pas as a sign of our incompetence. We also feel that success is driven by our image as experts rather than as learners gradually discovering our strengths and weaknesses.

Are these really the best measures of success? What if we were to encourage people t make their mistakes as many times as necessary? Would they eventually stumble across an unexpected discovery or a sudden flash of inspiration?

It is so phenomenal when we have people encouraging us to succeed or pushing us to achieve our goals and aspirations. I just wish there were enough people out there who would have the nerve to encourage us to make our mistakes as well. That would be so radical, so liberating and so exhilarating.


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