Sir Ken Robinson @ The Creative Company Conference

“What these things have in common is that kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go. Am I right? They’re not frightened of being wrong. Now, I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. If you’re not prepared to be wrong. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong.”

Going through school, we are systematically taught that making mistakes is bad. You take a math quiz and all of your errors are brazenly marked with a big X. You write an English essay and it returns riddled with red circles, indicating all the areas where you had spelling mistakes or errors of judgement. This sense of avoiding being wrong is ingrained in us and that’s how we could to approach the world.

But it’s that very fear of failure that prevents us from realizing our true potential. Because we are afraid to make mistakes, we don’t take those risks. We don’t expand beyond our comfort zones. We don’t attempt anything unconventional or try things in a different way for fear of being caught in error. And that’s a shame.

It Starts with Education

The quote at the top of this post comes from Sir Ken Robinson, an “educationalist” originally from the United Kingdom. You might know him from books like The Element and Out of Our Minds. He’s been an advocate for changing the way we operate our modern schools. While math and science are certainly important, he says that disciplines like drama and dance should be held up to the same standard and level of importance.

He’s quick to point out the importance of creativity and how this focus on avoiding mistakes is hindering the development of creativity. This sentiment is echoed by many other great educators like Neil deGrasse Tyson. There is no way that we can know what the world will bring in five years, let alone 50 years, so the best way we can prepare our children is to encourage them to try new things, to be ready to approach brave new worlds.

Being Wrong Isn’t So Bad

If we hope to make any kind of progress, we have to expect that we’ll be making mistakes. That’s how science operates. How many experiments come back with unusable or inconclusive results before a miraculous breakthrough is discovered? That’s how the arts operate. How many terrible songs are composed before a timeline classic is produced?

This concept is not new. Even Buddha said that one of the biggest mistakes we can make is never getting started. As you bumble your way through the road of life, you might trip, stumble and fall, but it’s the only way that you’ll have any chance of moving forward. It’s the only way that you’ll discover new things and embark on new adventures.

You’ve Got to Try

William Wordsworth once wrote that the Child is the father of the Man. Even though we think that adults are the ones educating the children, the reverse is also true. We can all learn a lot from the uninhibited nature of children, as they are not bound by the restricted shackles we place on ourselves through experience. In the same TED talk, Sir Ken Robinson told a brief story of a little girl.

I heard a great story recently, I love telling it, of a little girl who was in a drawing lesson, she was 6 and she was at the back, drawing, and the teacher said this little girl hardly paid attention, and in this drawing lesson she did. The teacher was fascinated and she went over to her and she said, “What are you drawing?” and the girl said, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” And the teacher said, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” And the girl said, “They will in a minute.”

I encourage you to watch the entirety of his talk through the embedded YouTube video below. It’s insightful, humorous and encouraging.