Creative Thinking for Business
Creative Thinking E-book
10. Is Creativity Wrong?
Another big hurdle to generating new ideas is the fear of being wrong. We all spend endless amounts of energy trying to always be right. We don’t want to make mistakes and give the appearance we don’t know what we are doing. This is not irrational at all in many organizations and situations. Any manager today worth their salt will tell you that mistakes are inevitable and actually necessary to make progress. However, if you make too many mistakes, you may get fired or at a minimum blackballed from promotions or advancement.
But we also know that the some of the most successful people in the world made thousands of mistakes on their way to victory. Why is it then, that we are so preoccupied with never showing that we could be wrong? In fact we all admire the organizations that take chances, make mistakes, and move forward. Those are the kind of companies people want to work for. How tolerant are you of your employees making mistakes? How tolerant are you of making them yourself?
Like many of the other key mental locks to creativity, you must find the balance. If you make a mistake every time you do something, you probably won’t stay employed long. But if you never make a mistake, you are being too conservative and are ignoring new possibilities that can make a difference.
Early in my career, I worked for a retired Air Force brigadier general name Tom Honeywill. Tom hired me to head up a new engineering services group in Florida. Things were going great and then the inevitable happened. I screwed something up and made a mistake. I don’t remember the specifics now (which just further confirms it’s not a big deal in the long run).
I was scared to death to go into his office and explain how I screwed up. I told my wife I was probably going to get fired so she should plan for the worse.
I went into his office and explained what had happened. No excuses, I had messed up. Being an ex-General I feared the worse, but to my surprise he gave me some of the best advice I have ever received to this day. He said, “It’s okay to make mistakes, I’m not going to fire you over that. If you never make a mistake, I’m going to fire you because you aren’t taking any risks and therefore won’t reap any rewards. Also, if you’re right 100 percent of the time, it means you spent way too much time reviewing and analyzing the decision. You’ve wasted too much time on it and you should have been working something else by now.”
I felt great. Then he followed with, “However if you’re only right 50 percent of the time, I don’t need you. I’ll just replace you by flipping a coin. So if you’re right something more than 50 percent but less than 100 percent, you’re right where you should be.”
Errors are inevitable and appropriate. All great ideas come with some along the way. Of course there are times when errors need to be avoided, but not during the creative thinking process when we are trying to generate new ideas. Bottom line is lighten up – we all make mistakes. They are a necessary part of being successful.