Mistakes: The Departure Point for Creativity

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Edison's Light Bulb

Accept that you will make mistakes as everyone does. If mistakes are so inevitable would it not be better to incorporate them into your creative process and use them as opportunities to be exploited rather than set-backs or even fatal flaws in the project.

The ever wise Dorye Roettger famously said, “There are no problems – only opportunities to be creative,” and for a person who adopts this as their maxim, every mistake made in the creative process can become an extraordinary opportunity, too.

At the very least, a mistake can be a lesson in what doesn’t work. The inventor Thomas Edison said, “Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won’t work.” However, a mistake can be so much more than that. It can be a prompt that kicks you off the tramlines of your typical thought processes and in pulling your best effort in order to compensate for your “mistake” you may find that you excel yourself or stumble into new paths.

A chess player who makes an error in their opening line of play could throw their opponent off guard with their unorthodoxy, be forced to invent a new line of strategy and work ten times harder because of their vulnerability.If your inventive mind has a tendency to fall into a rut a mistake can jerk you awake and bring you back to a sense of presence in the task.

A songwriter who always finds themselves going back to the same old chord progressions could take a hint from John Lennon and switch to a less familiar instrument. He is reputed to have done most of his writing at the piano because it was much less familiar and he was therefore more likely to stray into new musical territory. He may not have called it progress by mistakes but this is much closer to the kind of attitude that an opportunist creative needs to take to make the best of the inevitable.

Hints for using mistakes as a departure point for creativity

Get Socratic: Ask “why” at least five times until you get to the root of something. “Why did this happen?” “Why do I see this as a mistake?”

Get Freudian: Is this slip up some expression of a deeper subconscious intelligence? How might this “mistake” be seen as a wise move?

Get Existential: Instead of lamenting your stupidity in the past, even the past five minutes, embrace the fact that you are here now and nothing will change that. Enjoy the moment. Assess your options in the “NOW”.

Zen Out: Walk away from it for a while and settle your mind on something else. You may have made a “mistake” because you were trying too hard or wanting it too much. If you take a break and look away as if you do not care quite so much, you give your mind a chance to engage the subconscious.

A creative breakthrough is never far away from a mistake, let it find you.

8 thoughts on “Mistakes: The Departure Point for Creativity

  1. Seymour, I must say that this is quickly becoming a favorite blog site of mine. I’m delighted that Barb directed me this way as we are both bookish, artsy geeks (quite unashamedly I might add) and always on the lookout for good words on the creative process, muse, archetypes, etc. You sir, are very gifted.

    A new fan, Rob Rife

    1. Thank you so much for your kindness and words, Rob. I’m sure you know how much it is appreciated when a reader stops to say “hi” and express a deeper connection with you as a writer. I really hope we get to meet one day, as this virtual hollering across the pond ain’t cutting it for me with people like you and Barbara.

      In the meantime, be blessed; I’ll see you in the blogosphere 🙂


  2. […] Los errores sin duda pueden ser el punto de partida para la creatividad. Esa es a la conclusión que llega Seymour Jacklin en este pequeño texto, en el cual, a través de varios ejemplos, nos demuestra cómo sacarle provecho a todas nuestras equivocaciones. Como bien lo dice, las grandes ideas nunca están lejos de un error. […]

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