Intentional Mistakes and Why You Should Make Them

This video offers great advice from scientist Dr. Gresham. As mentioned in the video, 30-50% or more of scientific discoveries are, for the most part, accidental. There have been some great accidental discoveries that have changed our world. For example, Coca-Cola started creating it’s recipe off of a mixture that was originally created by pharmacist John Pemberton to cure headaches. Silly Putty was discovered while James Wright was trying to come up with an artificial rubber for war efforts. Penicillin was an accidental discovery. Alexander Fleming discovered it when he returned from a vacation to find mold on one of his petri dishes which had killed off the surrounding bacteria.

“It’s a great day to make a mistake!”

Can you learn from your mistakes? It’s not just about making mistakes and learning from them. It’s about allowing yourself to create and discover. I know that for me personally some of the best things I’ve learned have come from trial and error. If you are too preoccupied by the quantity of work you are getting done over the quality then when will you have time to come up with something new and exciting?

We’ve talked a lot about creating your marketing plan and how to come up with successful advertising campaigns using promotional gifts. So today what I’m saying is that within those plans there needs to be a place for discovery and a place for trial. After all, if you don’t try something the how will you know if it will work?


Photo: Andrés Nieto Porras

Today’s challenge is to make intentional mistakes!

4 Ways to Achieve Intentional Mistakes

1. As Dr. Gresham says, focus on “learning over performance.” Start your day in discovery mode. Allow yourself the freedom to let the day lead you. You never know what you may learn.

2. Don’t always ask what others think. Take criticism with a grain of salt. If you don’t, it may stop you in your tracks and lead you into a different direction without allowing you the chance to finish what you had started. Then you may never know what you might have learned.

3. De-clutter your mind. Remove yourself from distractions that are blocking your creative mind. Also, don’t put yourself down if something doesn’t work out keep moving to the next idea until your find your eureka moment!

4. Challenge yourself. How can you make an intentional mistake if you are in familiar territory? Try something you have never tried before.

What was your greatest intentional mistake? What do you do when you are trying to be more creative? What have you learned from your mistakes? “What mistake was your greatest?” Do you have more examples of historical accidental discoveries?

67 thoughts on “Intentional Mistakes and Why You Should Make Them

  1. I think my greatest unintentional mistake came from a job interview (sales). The interviewer asked me, “What do you think is your worst quality?” I thought about what my father had always said to me and then responded. “I won’t take no for an answer.” Truly, it was that unintentional error that put me over the top for the job which became my career. I have to de-clutter my mind when I write:) Or rather move into the world of make-believe:) It’s there that discovery finds me!
    Jacqueline Gum (Jacquie) recently posted…Crepe…Where’s The Justice?My Profile

    • Jacqui-Wow that is an interesting question. “What do you think is your worst quality?” We are a lot alike. I don’t take no for answer either. I wish I could de-clutter my mind so I could sleep at night. Who knows maybe I don’t want to do that because that is where I get the best ideas, in bed waiting for sleep to happen.
      Arleen recently posted…Intentional Mistakes and Why You Should Make ThemMy Profile

  2. Love this one Arleen. Nothing is coming to mind as an intentional mistake. But I know how creative I am – in almost everything I do. I say this because others often say, “how did you think of that?” or “I would never have thought of that.” I’m coming up blank on intentional mistakes and am just glad you didn’t ask, “what mistake was your greatest?” That would lead to more discoveries!
    Patricia Weber recently posted…Introverts “on the level” approach to negotiation successMy Profile

  3. Hi Arleen. My best intentional mistakes arise from doing what is counter-intuitive because one is most likely to discover something unique when taking the path least travelled and can capitalize before the competition wakes up. The key of course is to keep the mistakes that work out and to quickly ditch the ones that don’t while distilling what can be learned from each.
    Paul Graham recently posted…Monday Matters : Cellphone Democracy ?My Profile

  4. We definitely learn from our mistakes.

    Agree with points 2,3 and 4.

    But following point one could turn out to be disastrous. “Allow yourself the freedom to let the day lead you. You never know what you may learn” would for an abundance of people lead to no work being done at all.
    Catarina recently posted…Is the economy complex and evolving?My Profile

  5. I firmly believe that mistakes are the pillars of success. With mistakes comes criticisms. This is where most people quit. The key, as you mentioned, is to carry on. This piece of motivation came in the right time for me. I have been trying hard to learn a computational software for a week now… and yes I do mistakes every now and then… 🙂
    Tuhin recently posted…6 ways to deal with criticismsMy Profile

  6. Wow; that unexpectedly brought a tear to my eye. I was really touched by the truth of learning from mistakes and growing because of it. Not being afraid of mistakes and not dampening the creative process within yourself or someone else. Curiosity is a great gift and even if it sometimes kills the cat it more often than not create a great story, great memory, an unexpected moment of joy and a lesson. My blog is named Flat Tires and Slow Boats based solely on this lesson and I guess the affirmation of it via your post was a great way to start the week. Thanks.
    Tim recently posted…Beckoned Skyward by an EarthquakeMy Profile

  7. Hi Arleen. My best intentional business mistake was probably the one when I decided that my then hosting company was unfair and so I decided to rent my own server, figure out my own hosting strategy and to setup everything on my own.

    It was hard, it was stupid but it led me to the sequence of events that helped me launch my managed WordPress hosting business. I am today happy that I made that mistake.

    Thank you for jogging my memory!

    Kumar Gauraw recently posted…When You Hate Network Marketers, Why Use Their Proven StrategiesMy Profile

  8. Hi Arleen,
    Ah, yes! The fine art of striving for imperfection. Making intentional mistakes is smart.
    When we allow our childlike sense of wonder and curiosity to instruct us, we have much to learn, especially in terms of flexibility and creativity.

    I like your last question… it goes hand in hand with this: When was the last time you did something for the very first time? It’s all about venturing off the beaten path.
    It sure beats being bored giving the hamster wheel another spin.

    Kind Regards,
    William Butler recently posted…Maya Angelou: Her Love, Her Life, Her LegacyMy Profile

  9. Interesting piece, Arleen. Some of the best outcomes are found in plan B’s arising out of plan A flaws. The right attitude can make way for some of those ‘happy accidents.’

  10. My greatest mistake was getting a teaching degree when all I ever really wanted to do was write in the first place. Had I not made that mistake, I would not be in the place I am today with my freelance editing business. All in all, there really aren’t mistakes since they all move us forward in some manner. Unfortunately, students aren’t really allowed to or encouraged to make mistakes in many schools, and it shows in their lack of curiosity and determination. I agree and disagree with #2 as there is a certain art to learning how to determine what is and isn’t helpful criticism.
    Jeri recently posted…#CreativeWriting: Life in a BagMy Profile

  11. The video and your post was very poignant and made me think. In many ways my blogging was an accident and one I would never have tried on my own. It took a comment for me to realize that I was actually a blog not a private journal. One thing led to another and wonder of wonder here I am a dyslexic writing and publishing regularly. As you’ve said, if we never try something, we will never discover what wonders we are able to accomplish. 🙂
    Susan Cooper recently posted…Clay Station Winery Pinot Grigio: #WineMy Profile

  12. This is really something to think about. I’m a perfectionist, which often gets in the way of being creative. If it’s not going to “work” I don’t even want to try it. But you got me thinking about how most discoveries are by accident, and how can you have those happy accidents without working on something? Like Edison and the lightbulb, each failure brings us that much closer to finding what does work.
    Meredith Wouters recently posted…7 Family Friendly Summer ProjectsMy Profile

  13. I am with Paul’s comment. I am one who take chances. I practiced music for three years and then didn’t want to do it anymore . At least I did it and wouldn’t later regret not trying. I waitress ed for many years and then quit. I needed a job and a friend offered me a caretaker job . I would have said no to that when I was younger. I dove in and I like doing it. I loved the video and it was very inspiring. I agree with your topic! Great post and uplifting. =)
    Crystal Ross recently posted…I am a procrastinator guilty as charged.My Profile

  14. My father always said to me when growing up, “It’s not the mistake but what you learn from it and how you react.” That’s definitely something I try to apply to everyday life. Honestly, my mistakes are ones that might not have helped matters (no specifics) but they’ve taught me to make better use of my resources and think more towards the future instead of the right now. Thanks for sharing this.
    Carl recently posted…Trains Rule! No, Really!My Profile

  15. This seems to be a hot topic in business right now. One of my favourite quotes is by Winston Churchill, who said that success is the ability to go from failure to failure with unflagging enthusiasm. And it’s true. You have to keep honing your game – just because you don’t get it right the first time, doesn’t mean you’ve lost. “There are no mistakes, only lessons.” I wish I could remember who said that, but it’s also worth remembering!

    • I think the original quote came from Plato and they Cherie Carter-Scott started using the quote. There are no mistakes, only lessons. For a lot of people, that’s a tough one, but it really defines and separates the “negaholics” from the rest of the people. Because if you’re a “negaholic,” you will look at the situations that happen as opportunities to either beat yourself up, take yourself to task, complain or beat up somebody else.
      Arleen recently posted…Intentional Mistakes and Why You Should Make ThemMy Profile

  16. Hi Arleen

    I love this post. Both the video and what you have said.

    I cannot remember making an intentional mistake. I have done a lot of trial and error in business and correcting along the way and I have made many mistakes and they have been my learning experiences.

    If I answered all of your questions I would be writing a book. 🙂 I constantly am learning especially since I have been online and I do try different things regularly. I have a tendency to go for perfection and that is not such a good thing.

    Great food for thought here Arleen. Thank you.

    Sue Price recently posted…Expectations: Do You Expect to Win?My Profile

  17. I feel as if you and I were synchronized this week in terms of the focus of our posts. I could not agree more about the value of making mistakes. We all do better when we explore, trip down the road less traveled or just let our minds wander. When we open ourselves up to the possibilities, all kinds of great things follow.

    As for my own best mistakes, Jacquline’s answer reminded me of one of my own. I was in my third interview for a job and the CEO couldn’t make up his mind whether he should hire me or another candidate. Out of curiosity I asked him what he was getting stuck on. He told me that while I had great communications skills I didn’t know much about the sector, while the other candidate was well versed in the sector but wasn’t as effective with relationships. Without thinking I asked ,”Well what do you think is easier to teach, the industry or interpersonal communications?”

    I got the job. 🙂 The thing is, one of the challenges I have faced over they ears is that I ask awkward or uncomfortable questions. If you’re not used to it or don’t care for that kind of thing I can be a real pain, so I try to avoid that in interviews.
    Debra Yearwood recently posted…Do You Plan For Serendipity?My Profile

    • Debra- You question could have been considered a mistake but at the end of the day you got the job. I loved your question. Teaching the industry skills is easier than teaching communications. You either have it or you don’t. That is the key is to open ourselves up to the possibilities, who knows where they will lead.
      Arleen recently posted…Intentional Mistakes and Why You Should Make ThemMy Profile

  18. I don’t know of an intentional mistake I’ve made, but I do know of one mistake I made that I learned a valuable lesson from: my mass emailing catastrophe using the bcc function. Boy, did I tick off a lot of people by showing email addresses. You’d think it was the end of the world, the way some hatefully responded!

    Now I know how to use that function properly.

    What an interesting subject this is, intentional mistakes…
    Lorraine Reguly recently posted…Getting Back to Basics with This Darn BlogMy Profile

  19. Hi Arleen,

    Great post indeed!! You raised a very important topic “learning from our mistakes”!!

    Yes, mistakes are inevitable in the journey of life and every mistake is just another step in the process of reaching our goals. In the end, success is just a series of failures that we’ve gathered wisdom from.

    The fear of making mistakes and failing is always strong, but if we don’t try we will never get there.

    Thanks Arleen for an evergreen topic!! Really enjoyed it!! Have yourself a great rest of the week.

    Be Blessed,

    Neamat Tawadrous recently posted…5 Tips On How To Establish Authority In Your BusinessMy Profile

  20. Hi Arleen
    Thanks for sharing a wonderful post on intentional mistakes and accidental discoveries. Generally it is said this word was created accidental after interaction of so many chemicals and substances.
    Yes it is very surprising to know that there is huge number of intentional mistakes around us. Its main reason of lack of care and lack of responsibility. We are habitual of doing every work in a stereotyped way and while doing many word we remained engrossed in another thought quite irrelevant to ambiance of that work.
    Once again thanks for writing on such a great topic and sharing with us.

  21. Hi Arleen,
    This is my first visit on your blog and got impressed!!! 🙂
    What an amazing post you have posted on intentional mistake, I’ve never made any intention mistake yet, but it will be so interesting for me to make an intentional mistake in my life. Thanks for sharing such a nice article.
    keep posting.

  22. Hi Arleen,
    That video brought a tear to my eye and made me feel “Normal!” I’m of the mindset that there are not mistakes, just things I do that don’t work out. So it teaches me to do it in a different way.

    Currently, I’m marketing and have made a “mistake” on my capture page. I didn’t feel bad at all but delighted that someone pointed it out to me. So I had to re-do it. No worries at all.

    Thanks for this inspiration!

    donna merrill recently posted…Taking Time For Your SelfMy Profile

  23. Thanks for posting the inspiring video. Too many organizations don’t allow for mistakes which stifles creativity. I’ve seen it too often. I think my biggest mistakes happen now when I know in my heart I shouldn’t take on a client, I do, and then I’m sorry because I know it’s not going to work. I’m getting better at that. A client referred someone to me and I just knew she was going to be bad news. First I checked the client to see how important this woman was to her and it turns out she was just a passing acquaintance and didn’t care if I turned her down. So I did.
    Jeannette Paladino recently posted…Engaging Your Employees So They Don’t Hate WorkMy Profile

  24. I think trial and error is the best way to learn.
    How will you know if it will work if you don’t try? Some people don’t want to come out of their shells, but I’m asking myself how could they live this way? I made lots of errors but I dont’ regret anything cause they let me become the person I am now.

  25. Hey Arleen,

    That was a great message, I agree. Now I know that a lot of us are so hard on ourselves because it’s always been pounded into our heads that we don’t need to be making mistakes. Like when I was in corporate America you are definitely looked down on if you make a lot of them. I think though that no one is perfect and they do happen but those are the lessons we can learn.

    I think as far as the mistakes I’ve made along the way since venturing online I’ve learned from mine like what I did enjoy doing and what I didn’t. I also have learned a lot about myself while on this journey so I think they can definitely be a good thing.

    I appreciate the message, thanks so much and I loved that video. 😉 See, you find the coolest things to share.

    Adrienne recently posted…What Makes The Perfect Blog Post [Infographic]My Profile

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