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Creativity, innovation and making mistakes

I came across a very good article written by Espen Brunborg titled “Is the Internet killing creativity?” Brunborg touches upon a number of interesting subjects, and I especially liked the following bit towards the end:

But remember this: machines have no imagination. Robots work to a specific set of rules. They follow the recipe. They can’t create something that’s original and meaningful. They have no imagination. If we want to survive the Matrix (my robotic dystopian metaphor of choice), we need to maintain ours.

So we’re left with a choice. We can take the blue pill: we carry on as we are. We perfect the recipe. We choose the familiar. And eventually we hand our jobs over to robots.

Or we take the red pill: we go beyond the obvious and enter Wonderland. We fail. We fail again. And in the process, we offer what the machines can’t: memorable, original and creative experiences.

Brunborg is right, but taking the red pill is often very difficult for people. And this is because the societies we have today around the world condition people to be very afraid of failure.

For example, from early childhood you get reprimanded and punished if you make a mistake, instead of being encouraged to improve. In addition, people around you are quick to use any mistakes you make against you, often even far into the future. And this behavior is the result of the anti-social system that we live in, where people are constantly being encouraged to compete against one another (instead of cooperating), which causes them to develop predatory behavior. People become like crabs in a barrel — quick and eager to pull each other down whenever an opportunity arises to do so, so that they can position themselves higher. Any mistake you make is certain to be used against you in this system.

So it’s understandable that people are afraid to take risks; they’re afraid to be wrong and make mistakes, and afraid to admit it when they do. That’s what is stifling creativity, innovation and progress in general, apart from all the rules and procedures. Probably all creative people will be able to tell you stories about clients who rejected an idea (or needed a lot of convincing) because they thought it was too risky, and I certainly have my own. Most clients actually want to stick to “the familiar” just to be safe.

But like I pointed out in the past, if you want to stand out, then coming up with unique and creative ideas and trying them out, includes the risk of being wrong and making mistakes. Like Albert Einstein said, “anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” If people are afraid to make mistakes, then it automatically also means they’re afraid to be creative, to innovate and to make discoveries (or inventions).

We have to change the way we think about making mistakes. Making mistakes is a natural part of learning. Making mistakes should only become a problem when people keep making the same mistake over and over again because they obviously fail to learn from it. Nobody should be treated in any negative way (reprimanded, punished, made fun of, etc.) simply because they made a mistake. Instead we should offer them our help if needed, and also learn from their mistakes. If you’ve made a mistake, or if you find out you were wrong, simply admit it immediately, make sure you take responsibility and learn from it, and then move on. You and everyone in society will reap huge benefits from that. That’s how I deal with being wrong, in any case.

Creativity should also not be limited by rules and procedures, or by “the familiar.” Jacque Fresco says that “being creative is taking known elements and putting them together in unique ways.” In other words, being creative means deviating from rules, procedures and “the familiar.” So creativity requires freedom. There can be no creativity without freedom. One needs to be able to experiment and explore all ideas wherever they may lead. And they may often lead nowhere, and that’s ok, as long as we learn from it, move on and keep trying new things.


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