Making the Right Mistakes

From ‘Trial and Error’ to ‘Trial and LEARN’

“We made too many wrong mistakes” –Yogi Berra

A music director once told me that when he rehearsed, he preferred the musicians to make mistakes confidently. He wanted the mistakes to be big and loud so he would notice them quickly, provide coaching and help the ensemble improve. In the end, the concert audience would only hear the orchestra at their best.

Don’t avoid mistakes on the path to creating a great outcome. There are plenty of “right” mistakes that can be made! The biggest way to make “wrong” mistakes is by trying to avoid making mistakes at all. In fact, avoidance can cause stress, make you worry about failing and can hinder creativity. Like the music director, I recommend that you take on the attitude that mistakes can help you improve and make progress.

Consider the phrase, “trial and error.” “Error” in this context is not a negative word. It is a sign that adjustment is needed. Making many “good” mistakes has driven invention, product development, scientific discovery and the creative process for hundreds of years. Tests are run, results are noted, changes are made, tests are run again and eventually the outcome improves.

Still not ready to embrace mistakes? Look at it another way: a mistake is a result you didn’t anticipate. So think, what can I LEARN from that result? Challenge yourself to change your thinking from “Trail and Error” to “Trial and LEARN.” Think about it: if you were learning to ride a bike and fell down, would you call that a mistake and punish yourself? Or would you get up, learn from the fall, and get moving again? Ups and downs are all just part of the process!

Because it is so important to be open to making mistakes, bring this concept to the forefront during group creative problem solving sessions. Give each participant a mistake quotient. I give them permission to make 30 mistakes, and if they use all 30, I give them 30 more. According to Dave Meir, director of the Center for Accelerated Learning, the greatest block to adult learning is defensiveness. By giving participants a mistake quotient, they relax and enjoy learning instead of avoiding or defending their mistakes.

If you want to bring more creativity into your work and personal life, embrace the mistake quotient. Give yourself permission to make lots of “right” mistakes. Make ’em big and make ’em loud. Laugh about them and learn from them. That way, when it’s show time, you are ready to give the audience your best!

Pamela Szalay with Roger Firestien and Cher Ravenell

Pamela Szalay is an educator, consultant and coach who can open the door to more creative thinking. For more information visit

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