Embracing 404 — The creative power of the mistake

We try to avoid mistakes. If we’re not practicing surgery, we should not.

Every mistake is an opportunity in jazz.
– Stefon Harris


The rational mind tends to think that the solution to a problem should and must be the straight line which connects point A to point B.

No distractions or deviations are acceptable. In this case “rational” stands for “economic” as well, in the sense that the solution to the problem is the one — and only that one — which uses only the means necessary to get from here to there.

This is not the case of the creative process where distractions often show different and maybe much more interesting (and usefull) ways to get to the point.
Mistakes usually come from an absense of mind — a temporary one indeed: it is no longer — or just for few seconds — focused on the problem and starts to hanging around, acting as it was not supposed to act.


We’re afraid to fail

write Daniel C. Dennett in", Daniel C. Dennett writes in Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking.

Why are we afraid to make them? Human evolution is based on mistakes after all. We might say that there wouldn’t be any if there were no errors at all. We become better while doing errors, taking the wrong way, misunderstanding facts and reality.

We’re afraid for the simple reason that we don’t want to be judged on the base of how many times we fail. But we fail once or more times, that’s a fact.


The straight line

We were raised to think that the solution is just in front of us and that only a straight line can bring us there. Much more than this, while trying to solve a problem, we assume only one point of view: our own. It’s difficolt to be someone else because we already know (or we suppose to know) how our brain works. Mistakes are unconscious dislocations of our point of view: even if we don’t realize it, we’re considering the problem from a view which is slightly different from the usual one. It’s like taking another path when we are driving our car (not the wrong one, just another one) and soon we discover:

  • That the new one is better
  • That the old one was wrong
  • That the new one is wrong

In fact mistakes allow us to get back to where we were coming from or just take another path.


Control can blind us

Why we can’t often see the right path to the solution? Because we’re too focused on following the path, the one that we presume is correct. Instead of using our mind to search for different solutions we use it to check the control panel: speed is ok, I’ve got enough gasoline, weather is fine, let’s go.

What we usually name “mind” is just control: we don’t let the mind work free but we force it to work the way it is supposed to work. We’re wasting a lot of intellectual energy just thinking we’re thinking the right way and trying to avoid mistakes. But mistakes can be very creative and helpful: they stress the weaknees of our thinking, they arouse doubt.

They’re finally for our own good.

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