Great Ideas Require a Willingness to Be Wrong

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Creative risks and great ideas often require a willingness to be wrong. Unfortunately, throughout our lives, we’re conditioned to be afraid of being wrong. As Ken Robinson pointed out in his TEDTalk, school stigmatizes mistakes. As a result, we do everything we can to avoid making them.

But the most interesting creative work rarely results from copying what worked for someone else and doing what’s already been proven to work. It occurs when we take risks and do something that in the words of Seth Godin “might not work.”

Over the last several months I’ve been doing quite a bit of keynote speaking. One of the things I wanted to experiment with was using music in an interesting way. In movies and TV shows, music amplifies the emotion of dialogue. I wondered whether or not I could incorporate this into one of my talks. So I set the closing of one of my talks to an instrumental track and started practicing. There’s nothing in any guide on public speaking that would suggest this.

The possibility of being wrong is what results in the possibility of doing something in a new and interesting way.

The fear of being wrong is one of the greatest inhibitors of possibility in our lives, and yet it drives so much of what we’re willing to try. But it’s only in our willingness to be wrong that our sense of possibility expands, and the potential for innovation, creativity and interesting work occurs.

There’s a relationship between risk and fear that nobody tells us about or we seem to unlearn as we get older. Risk when it works in our favor has the power to transform fear into fuel, and anxiety into joy. If you’re unwilling to be wrong, it’s almost impossible to be original.

Judgment/Criticism

Fear of having our work judged or criticized often keeps us from starting or building what we want to build. After years of being a writer/creator, I’ve learned that if you’re going to put your work out into the world you’re going to have people who it doesn’t resonate with. You can put your energy into making more art for the people who love what you do or watering down your work to cater to your critics. The latter is a fool’s errand.

In school, we got penalized for our mistakes. In life our mistakes are often our greatest teachers. We just have to be willing to look at them and ask “what can I learn from this?”

Discerning Feedback

There are two types of feedback you’ll get as a creative: constructive and useless. Part of doing great creative work is learning how to discern between the two.

Early this morning I was toasting a bagel at Starbucks and someone who had been in my keynote told me he enjoyed the talk. He told me it was a bit dry at the beginning, but that I knocked it out the park at the end. That was useful feedback. I came back to my room and wrote down a list of things that I could do to make sure my future talks started with a higher energy level.

Years ago when I started one of my first creative projects, a classmate of mine at Pepperdine sent me an email to tell me how stupid it was and even called me “brohim.” It’s probably a good rule of thumb never to take creative writing advice from a person who uses the word brohim in an email.

Needless to say, this was completely useless feedback from a guy who had never spoken to me. If I had taken his feedback seriously, you might not be reading my writing at the moment. As Scott Stratten likes to say about these kinds of critics “you’re not the jackass whisperer.” If the feedback can improve your work, it’s worth listening to. If it’s criticism for the sake of it, it should be completely ignored.

There was a time in our lives when we had no fear of being wrong. The possibilities of what we could become were limitless. If we’re willing to be wrong will we can recapture somewhat naivety of our youth. As I said in my TEDx Talk (linked below), “Maybe you’ll be wrong, or maybe you’ll catch a perfect wave and end up on the ride of your life


Before You Go…

If doing the best work of your life is important to you, you’ll love my free guide: “Optimizing Productivity & Creativity.

The tactics I’ve packed into this guide allowed me to write over 1 million words in the last 2 years. What could it do for your life’s work? Don’t miss it.