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Don't be afraid to fail – 8 reasons why mistakes are momentous.

By Dan Pinkney  8 minute read

Wrong Way

As a #throwbackthursday moment, I’ve chosen to revisit a post I wrote on my personal blog from a couple of years ago. At the time it had been lying dormant in my drafts folder for a good six months, perhaps paradoxically being afraid to post something that could be seen to have negative connotations (being seen as a failure for one). Nevertheless, I took the plunge. Below is a slightly updated version of that post, which I hope gives some pause for thought…  

The idea of mistakes being ‘momentous’ came to me as I was putting together a Creative Process Infographic and discovering (by mistake no less), that a key process in creating good and compelling design was progressing through a series of errors and mistakes. And this got me thinking of the bigger picture, how mistakes help shape and direct our lives as a whole and more often than not, in a constructive and positive way. To that end I’ve come up with eight reasons why I believe we should embrace making mistakes and not let the fear of failure (common among many INFJs) prevent us from taking action.

George Bernard Shaw

“Two things define you: your patience when you have nothing and your attitude when you have everything”

1. Mistakes are necessary for growth.

They force you to step back, re-evaluate, adapt and change – often for the better. They help you discover who you really are.

Mistakes in relationships (both personal and professional) will educate you as to what you need, what your own failings are, and how to counteract and address those issues. You learn, you grow, you get a valuable life lesson and your next relationship will be all the better for it. Although it may take a little longer as you’ll be less willing to settle.

I’ve tried many business ventures and while a couple have been immensely successful, the majority have been less so. However, the learning curve through those mistakes has been monumental. Again, mistakes enable further learning and the chance to grow and apply that learning to other entrepreneurial pursuits and life as a whole. At the very least you have educated and bettered yourself through taking risks and not being afraid to make a blunder or two.

2. Mistakes are necessary for creativity.

As mentioned in my aforementioned Creative Process Infographic post, the best and unique ideas often stem from mistakes, which I believe comes from an aspect of chaos theory. No matter how independent and creative we think we are, we can’t get away from the fact that we are a unique product of indoctrination made up of biases, prejudices, preferences that have been instilled through a lifetime of subtle manipulation – so what we ‘think’ is actually a direct by-product of that process. As such, our ‘creative thoughts’ are tied to a limited framework, nothing is ever truly creative in this instance. Mistakes, however, are truly random occurrences that exist outside this framework and are, by definition, truly creative moments. Through taking that mistake and utilising it, we help bring order to that chaos in one of many unique and innovative ways.

Bill Gates

“Failure is a great teacher.”

3. Mistakes are necessary for innovation.

Mistakes in business can be immensely profitable. Post-It notes, Velcro, and Cellophane were all products of mistakes resulting from a process to make something completely different. 3M for example, were attempting to develop a super-strong glue for the aerospace industry and ended up with a very weak glue that allowed sheets of paper to be stuck and unstuck with relative ease. Instead of consigning this product to the bin, some bright innovative spark at 3M decided to utilise this product and 3M ended up developing the Post-It note.

Great article on the topic – Could Fear Of Failure Limit Your Success?

On the other hand, fear of failure and of making mistakes can prove catastrophic. Those who are unwilling to take risks, to change, to adapt and run the risk of making mistakes will often fall by the wayside and end up losing out. No one can predict the future, so there is always a risk element. To progress, you sometimes have to take a leap of faith and take a gamble. Kodak are a prime example of how fear of moving on and embracing new technologies (and one they actually invented – i.e. the digital camera) would result in their downfall.

The moment it all went wrong for Kodak

Random thought…

Is innovation the same as creativity? Quick Google search came up with the following…

Creativity is the capability or act of conceiving something original or unusual.

Innovation is the implementation of something new.

So, somebody has to take a risk and deliver something for a creative idea to be turned into an innovation.

Creativity vs Innovation

4. Mistakes keep you humble.

They bring you back to earth, shock the ego and show that you are fallible and human. This in turn helps instil understanding, empathy, prevents judgemental opinions and moulds character.

5. Mistakes help you get rid of fear.

The more mistakes you make, the more you get up and learn from them, the more you value the lessons they give you. Failure only comes when you give up.

Tallulah Bankhead

“If I had to live my life again, I’d make the same mistakes, only sooner.”

6. Mistakes prevent you from living a life of regret.

If you are unafraid to make mistakes, then chances are you’ll take more chances and when the opportunity arises, you’ll grasp it with both hands. Most people on their deathbeds end up thinking of the ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’ – top five regrets of the dying.

7. Mistakes make the best stories.

The best stories come about through triumph over adversity, through being knocked down and getting back up again – not from sailing through life from one success to another.

8. You can’t predict the future.

Mistakes will always be made – it’s how you choose to deal with those mistakes (in a negative or positive way) that will dictate your approach and path through life. Successful people make mistakes, and fail, and pick themselves up, and wipe away the tears. I’m reminded of the likes of SpaceX and Tesla, each with a business model and culture that revolve around ruthless iteration in the pursuit of ridiculously ambitious goals – a model that results in scores of failures, but failures that ultimately bring success and recognition.

Carlota Zimmerman

“If you want an interesting life of your very own, instead of just watching other people have fun on Netflix, you’re going to have to get very comfortable very quickly with making huge mistakes. Make big mistakes and learn from them. Do it enough, and you’ll start to relax as you realize that there’s no such thing as failure. There’s just life. Your life.”