Mistakes, creativity, and the learning process

Mistakes are a big part of life. One learns best when one makes mistakes (look at me all highnmighty using the “one” ha ha).

And yet, we aren’t very good at letting people make mistakes, or acknowledging them.

My best boss ever was someone who was good at helping people learn, and at acknowledging his mistakes.

Dennis hired me because I was computer-competent. He needed somebody to make an Excel spreadsheet or two, and to fix some data files that came from head office.

Those of you who have done stuff like that know it is *never* as easy as that sounds. And as competent as I am, I still made a ton of mistakes. Thanks to Dennis’ fine leadership and management, though, I *learned* from them.

How did he do that?  Easy. When he found a mistake, he didn’t yell, scream, accuse or belittle.  He worked with me slowly and patiently to figure out how I made the mistake, and then, instead of telling me *how* to fix it, he pointed me in the right direction. “That number there should be coming from this part of the spreadsheet. Have a look, and see if you can figure it out.”

And sometimes simply “You’ve got the wrong type, there.  Go back and get the right one.”

If I said “I’m not sure which is the right one,” he’d point me in the direction of where to find it.

This meant that the next time I went to do that spreadsheet, I’d know what to check, and how to check. I learned.

When the mistake wasn’t something I had done, Dennis would say something like “Oh, sorry, that’s me mucking you up… I’ve given you the wrong data.”

And all of this was done good-naturedly, with good humour, and patiently. Dennis’ excellent leadership was why I kept asking him for work, long after I had worked myself out of a job.  I learned a lot from him, not just about Excel, Access, and data files, but also about *how* to go about checking detailed work, and what to do if you make a mistake.

A lot of what I learned from Dennis I carried over into my mothering skills.  I use Dennis’ language to let my kids explore and make mistakes. Later, when I did my Playcentre courses, I was pleased to discover that Playcentre philosophy supported this view.

Everyone needs to make mistakes in order to learn.  Making the mistake *usually* means that you will try something different the next time, and maybe be successful at your task.

But if everyone around you pokes fun at your mistakes, you’ll try to get everything perfect the first time around. You’ll stress over it. You’ll listen to what other people did, instead of trying it out for yourself.

Sir Ken Robinson said something in one of his conference speeches that really resonated with me. He said “Now, I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

If you follow what others have done on the basis that you don’t want to be wrong, you might miss an easier, better, or more efficient way of doing something.

And yet, we make fun, belittle, and otherwise target people for making mistakes. Children and adults.

We even do it subconsciously with our kids – by doing things *for* them rather than letting them figure it out.  It’s not verbally said, but done with our actions. This little story explains it quite well, I think.  The Little Boy

My point to this long, rambling post is that we have to encourage an allowance for honest mistakes.  We have to let people make mistakes to learn, and not shortcut the learning process. And we especially have to let our children make mistakes, so that they can find easier, better, and more efficient solutions to many of our problems.

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About Broot

Thoughts about learning and life that are lost in a sea of blogs.

6 responses to “Mistakes, creativity, and the learning process”

  1. Robin G says :

    I’m still trying to convince myself that mistakes are good.

    My oldest daughter once had a teacher who told her to make big mistakes. And when they made a mistake in their writing they were to only draw a line through it. Never erase. Never scribble out. Own the mistake and move on.

    I’m afraid I still scribble mine out too often.

  2. Karen, author of "My Funny Dad, Harry" says :

    I have had lots of nice bosses too. Mistakes happen, I’m just glad I am not in a life or death situation in my occupation. Making a secretarial mistake at least can usually be corrected.

    Stopping by from SITS.

  3. Margaret says :

    I wish I would have had a boss like that. My bosses where always jerks! Thanks for stopping by my blog today for my SITS day!

  4. Jenn@ You know... that Blog? says :

    Wisely said, my friend!!

    My boss is a jerk about mistakes… unfortunately, I’m self-employed, so that makes ME the jerk. What you’ve said here makes so much sense, and I know it in my heart but getting my head to follow along is not so easy. I try harder where my kids are concerned, but too often I get impatient and take over a task when I should just let them figure it out on their own. I need to learn how to chill out!!

  5. Rebecca says :

    How fortunate to have such a great boss! And good for you for making the connection and carrying these skills over into motherhood.

    Stopping by form SITS!

  6. allegory in the sky says :

    mistakes are indeed the best way to learn. Given sometimes they aren’t that fun and sometimes can be downright uncomfortable, but in the end we learn more from them I reckon. 🙂

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