The art of making mistakes

“I could be wrong now . . . but I don’t think so.”
— Randy Newman, singing the theme song from the TV show “Monk”

Writing in the August 2011 issue of The Retail Observer, Moe Lastfogel says that too many people in business fear being wrong. They confuse making mistakes with defects of character. Because of the perception of errors as a sign of weakness, they choke off a source of ideas that can differentiate their company from the competition.

He quotes Kathryn Shulz, author of Being Wrong, as saying that while making mistakes is part of the human condition, it’s viewed as shameful and degenerate in business. “In this rather despairing view our errors are evidence of our gravest social, intellectual and moral failings. Of all the things we are wrong about, this idea of error might well top the list.”

The irony is that mistakes can lead to discovery, she says. “Thanks to error, we can revise our understanding of ourselves and amend our ideas about the world.” Think of the experiments that led to penicillin and the light bulb.

Lastfogel reinforces that view with a few ideas of his own. “At what stage in our life did we start believing that we need to be perfect at everything we do? In the real world, we need to be wrong, not deterred, just wrong sometimes. We need to push our comfort zones to get ahead.”

That’s especially true for creatives, who need that process of trial and success, of finding what works by working through what doesn’t. As a process it’s humble and inefficient but it can create breakout solutions. And as the twin forces of recession and contention continue to infect our spirit, all of us could use an infusion of unconventional thinking.

I could be wrong now, but I don’t think so.