Made a mistake? Try looking at it as a work of art

art

Mistakes are messy. But that’s not always necessarily a bad thing. (Photo via Peter van Broekhoven on Flickr’s Creative Commons.)

We all make mistakes sometimes. Okay, a lot of the time. Most days I find myself uttering “I’m sorry” or “d’oh!” more than I like to admit.

It’s often these small failures that can send us into a spiraling hole of negativity and cause us to be paralyzed. Taking that next step toward action, then, becomes hard.

So I was relieved to read a recent Brainpickings blog post about philosopher Daniel Dennett’s book, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, that encouraged me to look at mistakes in a different way:

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.

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. Any being, any agent, who can truly say, “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!” is standing on the threshold of brilliance.

So next time you forget a part of your presentation to volunteers or get upset when your plan to attract donors doesn’t come out the way you thought it would, remember: You’re brilliant. And there’s always next time to make it better.

How have you embraced your mistakes and used them to help you take a step forward?

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Comments (2)


  1. BT’s Daily Reading List 07.02.2013 | BT Irwin writes:
    July 2, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    [...] Made a mistake? Try looking at it as a work of art (Idealist Blog, Charles Hamilton Dennis) [...]


  2. Terrier writes:
    July 3, 2013 at 12:40 am

    Right now is really a good time for me to hear there’s always next time to make it better. Thanks for the reminder…


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