‘If bacteria hadn’t made a mistake, we wouldn’t be here,’ points out psychologist Jean-François Vézina. Life only exists because of an accident, he says.
Yet many of us are deeply uncomfortable with the idea of making mistakes. We fear messing up, and we’re not helped to see things differently by the way our society interprets mistakes.
As a result, many of us avoid taking risks, not only when it comes to the big decisions of our lives but also day-to-day, at work and in relationships. Fear of making mistakes curbs a creative approach to problems, and leads us too often to take the safe, established, sanctioned option. Don’t stick your neck out; don’t rock the boat.
But mistakes are inevitable, says Tim Harford, author of Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure (Abacus, £8.99). Moreover, they are essential to success.
‘Look at very successful people who have broken down barriers and really achieved things, from Richard Branson to Steve Jobs,’ he says. ‘You see a lot of mistakes in there with the successes. You don’t get to make a dent in the universe without taking risks and failing sometimes.’
If you practise making mistakes, you’ll be better equipped. ‘Take small risks often,’ says Harford. ‘It’s about teaching yourself that if it doesn’t come off, it doesn’t matter. A small inconvenience, a small cost, just may lead to something worthwhile. An occasional awkwardness, maybe – but you learn so much.’