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, written by Jeremy. Read the commentary.

Mistakes teach more than success.

Counterintuitive? Experimentation means being willing to make mistakes. When I am willing to be wrong, I am free to explore unlikely alternatives. Alternatives are key to solving difficult problems.

Imagine a scientist afraid to make mistakes. The beakers stay on the shelf (don’t want to break one). Equations are typed up, taped to walls and left unchanged. Articles remain blank pages because every nuance has yet to be considered.

Imagine a pro hockey player (this is hard, we haven’t seen one in so long). Winning requires risk. Safe passes make for crap play. Fearing sneaky, unexpected attacks means never attacking. Never missing the net means never taking shots.

Psychologists know that insight is a product of trial and error. When given a problem to solve, those that find solutions do so at the expense of repeated failure.

Psychologists found that highly intelligent seekers of insight remain unsure of the solution until the few moments before the problem is solved. They asked test participants to give “warmth ratings” periodically while solving problems and the successful few followed this pattern: cold, cold, cold, cold, WHITE HOT!!!!

Insight is not a gradual, safe process. It is a high stakes game with a steady stream of failure and restarts until a sudden solution is discovered.

Mistakes lead you to insight.

Commentary

It is interesting how significant “mistakes” (or at least sudden revelations) have been in contributing to society. The glass required for LCD’s (corning), Sticky notes (3m), Penicillin, Linux (Torvald’s developed the core in 20 minutes or something like that), wireless communication… All of these came from experienced, intelligent people who came to aha’s or accidental discovery that seem to come from no-where. To me, the key is creating and fostering environments where mistakes are encouraged – both for ourselves and those we lead/manage. I’m sure there’s research or writing on it, but it would be interesting to see the long-term performance of companies which encourage mistakes (in terms of learning and innovation) vs. the market average. Perhaps this is part of what Collins discusses in Good-to-Great.

That would be interesting. It might even be possible to do it externally using CEO keynote addresses referencing ideas along this line.

I did a little search before responding and landed on the quote below:

Mathematician Goro Shimura, speaking of Yukata Tamayana (1927-1958) said:

“He was gifted with the special capability of making many mistakes, mostly in the right direction. I envied him for this and tried in vain to imitate him, but found it quite difficult to make good mistakes.”

A knack for good mistakes. Not a bad 2 second pitch.