mistakes

A note on creating something imperfect

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Does what you create have to be perfect?

Perhaps. But it’s better to have created something imperfect than to not have created anything at all, right?

Of course imperfection comes with a price. Flaws can make you look like an amateur. Typos and grammatical errors turn even the most elegant writer into an ambitious sophomore. Any idea that begins to crumble under the lightest of critique can have it thrown out in a heartbeat.

From there, the damage of something imperfect scales infinitely. Imperfection can cost you a shot at that dream job or a place at the local art gallery. It can damage your career, ruin relationships, and make you look like a complete dolt.

It doesn’t matter whether the imperfection came as a result of simply overlooking something or whether you knew better or not. An imperfection means you messed up.

Critics like to spot the imperfections in anything. These days anyone can readily critique work, thanks in part to the Internet and the ability to consume more art, more writing, photographers, music, etc. than ever before. We’re all masterful critics now, able to effortless spot what makes a Monet great and a sixth-grade class project terrible. Or David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jestcompared to a blog post by a stay-at-home mom. Models in magazines and people at Walmart. We see imperfection everywhere because we have so many things to compare it with, so we feel empowered and justified when we spot imperfections and call them out.

Hours, days, months, or years can go into a work of art, and all it takes to make it evident that it’s from an amateur is the imperfections caused by a misplaced apostrophe, an accidental brush stroke, or a fraction of a delay in rhythm.

The cost of imperfection becomes a reason to not create. Worrying that what we end up with will be imperfect – even only slightly – is enough to ensure that we never pick up the brush, start typing the words, or move our feet.

Why work on something that might end up as crap anyway?

Billions of people around the world are asking themselves the exact same question: why put in the potentially countless hours of work to create something if it ends up being incomparable to the work of professionals or historic masters? Often the answer to this question is to not move. Those who ask it often end up not creating. In many instances, those same people don’t even like to think, they are content to be mindless critics. They exist to critique and contribute nothing to the world, because the cost of criticizing and judging is nothing.

Everyone can criticize.

What everyone can’t do is overcome the daunting fear of creating something imperfect. Of knowing that what they’re about to paint, write, play, invent, dance, or create may be terrible, but doing it anyway.

I say it’s better to create something imperfect than not create at all, because not everyone has what it takes to create. Creating anything means taking a risk to add something to the world, while critiquing adds nothing and costs nothing.

The critics will certainly come once that thing you create is out there in the world. If what they have to say about the imperfections can improve your work, that’s good, take the feedback and continue creating. If what they have to say is just gibberish or hateful, use it to remind you of what makes you valuable: you proactively create. This is important for us to remember:, because that’s all that critics can do: spot the imperfections. They can’t do what you’ve done when you press “publish” or hang your work in a gallery.

The cost of imperfection can be high, but the reward of creating anything at all is unfathomably higher. People who create stand out from the thoughtless masses. Creating opens new opportunities, gets you attention, helps you shape the world, and can inspire or motivate.

Create, even if it means making something imperfect.

Photo by Mark Patterson.



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.



Make mistakes

Take a minute to think about the word mistakes.

According to Dictionary.com, the word mistake means: “an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, insufficient knowledge, etc.”

The definition of mistake is enough to make anyone want to avoid them, but that’s not right. Look through‒out history at some of the largest mistakes ever made, and you’ll find success, fortune, fame, and happiness.

Most of the items and objects we use each day were created through mistakes. The lights powering your computer or phone monitor are the result of one success found from hundreds of mistakes. Donuts, Coca‒Cola, sticky notes, penicillin, ice cream cones, the slinky, are all examples of mistakes that become successes.

Yet, despite the evidence that mistakes can lead to success, you are likely to avoid them regularly. It’s time to see that mistakes aren’t all bad, but are actually beneficial.

When was the last time you could have done something, but decided not to for fear of making a mistake ‒ or worse: failing? What was something you may have wanted to do, but didn’t, because you didn’t want to risk making a mistake?

Compare those moments or situations to times where you did make a mistake, or you did fail.

Even after making a mistake, you were still able to move forward, were you not? And, if you’re smart, you learned something from your mistake as well, right?

Mistakes aren’t bad news, in‒fact: mistakes should be recognized as indicators of learning.

“A man’s errors are his portals of discovery.” ‒ James Joyce.

Don’t be afraid to make some mistakes today.