If You’re Not Making Mistakes, You’re Not Taking Enough Risks

Taking-risks-learning-from-mistakes 29jun15That’s a great quote from Debbie Millman cited by Daniel Dennett’s in his book: Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking.

The chief trick to making good mistakes is not to hide them — especially not from yourself. Instead of turning away in denial when you make a mistake, you should become a connoisseur of your own mistakes, turning them over in your mind as if they were works of art, which in a way they are. … The trick is to take advantage of the particular details of the mess you’ve made, so that your next attempt will be informed by it and not just another blind stab in the dark, Dennett writes.

He continues: “We have all heard the forlorn refrain ‘Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!’ This phrase has come to stand for the rueful reflection of an idiot, a sign of stupidity, but in fact we should appreciate it as a pillar of wisdom. Anyone who says, ‘Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!’ is standing on the threshold of brilliance.

A unique hallmarks of human intelligence is our ability to remember our previous thinking and reflect on, learn from it, use it to construct future thinking. Reminding us to beware our culture’s deep-seated fear of being wrong, Dennett advocates celebrating the “ignorance” that produced the mistake in the first place:

“So when you make a mistake, you should learn to take a deep breath, grit your teeth, and then examine your own recollections of the mistake as ruthlessly and as dispassionately as you can manage. It’s not easy. The natural human reaction to making a mistake is embarrassment and anger (we are never angrier than when we are angry at ourselves), and you have to work hard to overcome these emotional reactions. Try to acquire the weird practice of savoring your mistakes, delighting in uncovering the strange quirks that led you astray. Then, once you have sucked out all the goodness to be gained from having made them, you can cheerfully set them behind you, and go on to the next big opportunity.”

“You should actively seek out opportunities to make grand mistakes, just so you can then recover from them.” — Daniel Dennett


Topics: Taking risks, learning from mistakes, self-awareness, mental toughness, resilience


Simple Truths in Saccharine Sweet Syntax

days-of-of-livesSometimes truth is to be found hidden in jagged rocks of 19th century philosophy, encrusted in gigantic Germanic sentences, obscured by words we’ve never fully understood the meaning of. But just as often, I find, there is wise counsel in everyday language, no more sophisticated than a Hallmark card.

“A happy life is just a string of happy moments. But most people don’t allow the happy moment, because they’re so busy trying to get a happy life.” – Abraham Hicks

At once profound and banal – there is also the introductory voice-over of a soap opera that has been running since 1965, almost exactly as long as I’ve been alive. “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the Days of Our Lives.”

And from around the same era, a song reverberating in my subconscious mind since singing it for my middle school graduation ceremony:

If the hands of time were hands that I could hold,
I’d keep them warm and in my hands,
They’d not turn cold!

Hand in hand we’d choose the moments that should last,
The lovely moments that should have no future and no past!
The summer from the top of a swing,
The comfort and the sound of a lullaby,
The innocence of leaves in the spring,

…All the happy days would never learn to fly,
Until the hands of time would choose to wave good-bye!