Mistakes really matter, and here’s why

“It is true that a thousand days cannot prove you right, but one day can prove you to be wrong.” ‒ Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Nassam makes an excellent point in the quote above. A thousand days can’t prove anything right, but a single day can definitely prove something wrong. Which explains a lot about mistakes and why they’re so important to creativity.

Ask any successful creative how they got to be so successful and they’re likely to mention something about making a lot of mistakes along the way.

Why are mistakes so essential to discovering success? How does making a mistake enable you to be creative, and is it really that necessary to make mistakes in order to be creative?

Mistakes, as Nassam Nicholas Taleb – author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable – points out, help us to “get closer to the truth.”

In his book, Nassam explains exactly why we don’t learn from truths, but from falsification, or mistakes. Nassam writes:

“We can get closer to the truth by negative instances, not by verification! …Contrary to conventional wisdom, our body of knowledge does not increase from a series of confirmatory observations… It is true that a thousand days cannot prove you right, but one day can prove you to be wrong.”

Discovering the truth about something is nearly impossible. You have no way of knowing for sure that something is the way it is; it would take hundreds of thousands or even millions of situations to prove something is actual fact. You can, however, quickly learn what is not fact.

Take the leading example from Nassam’s book: the idea that our ancestors believed that all swans were white, simply because they had only ever seen white swans. Then comes along a black swan, a real, live and breathing black swan. Suddenly the truth that our ancestors believed was proven false.

Mistakes then – and, similarly, seeking falsification, not justification – enable us to learn faster than pursuing perfection or acknowledgements of what we think we know.

Rather than pursuing a life which avoids mistakes, where your knowledge is limited to very little, actively chase mistakes. Learn what doesn’t work and what is not true, and you’ll find yourself opening creative doors to new ideas faster.

Not even a thousand days can prove an idea works, but one day can prove that an idea doesn’t. That’s the creative power of mistakes.

Now get out there and try something new, then hope it fails.