We get the idea that all mistakes are bad from getting tested in school. Mistakes yield bad grades regardless of whether we were making a stupid mistake or learning about something we had assumed incorrectly. The buildup of the putdowns produces what Carol Dweck calls a "fixed mindset". We switch from making mistakes to being a mistake. We identify with traits of being deficient, defective and incapable of doing the right thing. We coverup mistakes and avoid taking risks to minimize the exposure of these presumed character flaws.
We set ourselves up to benefit from errors when we are the ones giving the test. We test new ideas, tools and methods to see if they work at all, and how well they function if they do. We create experiments to discover which approach gets the best results at the least cost. We learn by establishing formal trials and then realizing what goes wrong, backfires or costs too much for the small payoff. We need to realize what to expect from something that what does not go according to our plan, predictions or model. We get those benefits by making errors.
When we're benefiting from errors, we've acquired a nuanced view of mistakes I've explored in depth in previous posts:
- We know all mistakes are not the same and discern which kind of mistake we're intending to make, have just made or seem to be avoiding.
- We're wary of doing the wrong thing correctly and failing to watch out for losing games, worthless pursuits and bad habits.
- We're asking very different questions once we see our results than the binary choice between right answer/wrong answer.
When we're making productive errors, we're in a developmental context. We are a work in progress, not a bundle of traits. We're cultivating new insights, abilities and familiarities. We exhibit what Carol Dweck labels a "Growth Mindset". We're willing to take risks because of the payoffs we realize. We're more concerned with how we play the game knowing process improvements will yield better outcomes in the long run. We take a swing even though we may strikeout in front of 40,000 fans in the stands and millions more watching online and on televisions.
Here are my other explorations of the seven fractal patterns of innovation in Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson:
- Migrating to the adjacent possible (adjacent possible)
- How do good ideas behave (liquid networks pattern)
- Where hunches go to die (slow hunches)
- Setting up accidental discoveries (serendipity)
- Benefiting from errors (errors)
- Getting psyched for exaptation (exaptation)
- Flourishing on emergent platforms (emergent platforms)