Although making mistakes is part of the creative process, it is never the goal. When Edison set out to invent the lightbulb, he desperately wanted to create one that worked. His team made countless mistakes and tested over 6000 types of filaments in trying to find something that would burn bright without going out. In our own drive to succeed, mistakes are inevitable. Yet fewer mistakes are better than more.
If the end game is creative growth, one of the quickest ways to get through mistakes is to have a higher goal. Sustained light is what drove Edison and his team to try so many different types of filament substances—everything from wood shavings to a hair from his employee’s beard! It wasn’t until after a year of mistakes that carbonized bamboo emerged as the best source.
And Yo-Yo Ma was driven not just to hit the perfect note, but to make people feel. As a result, he was driven to perfection and practiced harder than anyone else. His goal of creating music that resonated in a deep and emotional way gave him drive. When onstage, Yo-Yo Ma considers himself this way: “I’m the host of a wonderful party. You’re all my guests.” His higher goal changed the whole scene.
So how does this relate to you and me? First, if you have a poster hanging up in your room that says “Make Mistakes. Make Mistakes. Make Mistakes,” go ahead and tear it down. Or better yet, just cross out the word Make three times. Then replace those crossed-out words with “Accept, Embrace, Transform.” When we do that, it opens up the opportunity to learn, to connect with others, and to move ahead. Finally, follow master photographer Ansel Adams’s advice: “Strive for perfection. Settle for excellence.”
- A LIFE SPENT MAKING MISTAKES IS NOT ONLY MORE HONORABLE, BUT MORE USEFUL THAN A LIFE SPENT DOING NOTHING.
- — GEORGE BERNARD SHAW