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I want to suggest to you today, that unless we have a tolerant attitude toward mistakes — I might almost say "a positive attitude toward them" — we shall be behaving irrationally, unscientifically, and unsuccessfully. Now, of course, if you now say to me, "Look here, you weird Limey, are you seriously advocating relaunching the Edsel?" I will reply, "No." There are mistakes — and mistakes. There are true, copper-bottom mistakes like spelling the word "rabbit" with three Ms; wearing a black bra under a white shirt; or, to take a more masculine example, starting a land war in Asia. These are the kind of mistakes described by Mr. David Letterman as Brushes With Stupidity, because they have no reasonable chance of success.
But Iím talking about mistakes which, at the time they were committed, did have a chance. The problem may be linguistic — we donít have a good word for "a reasonable try which didnít come off."
All of which ties in with my experience of what makes a group function more creatively. People must lose their inhibitions. They must gain the confidence to contribute spontaneously to whatís happening. Inhibition arises because of the fear of looking foolish, the fear of making mistakes. People are held back by this fear; they go over each thought they have six times before expressing it, in case someone will think itís ďwrong.Ē While this is going on, nothing useful can happen creatively.
A positive attitude towards mistakes will allow them to be corrected rapidly when they occur. We all know that when we and our colleagues admit our mistakes, itís comparatively easy to put them right. The problems come when mistakes are denied. If you don't acknowledge a mistake, you canít correct it.
John Cleese, "The Importance of Mistakes", 1988
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