Why mistakes are the key to the future

December 20, 2017

We don’t like mistakes. We don’t like making mistakes and we don’t tolerate people making mistakes.

What are mistakes? They are really deviations from an established ‘script’.

Children are pulled up if they make a mistake. At school, if a cloud is painted green or if an apple is colored blue, it is considered a mistake. Punishment follows. If such mistakes continue, alarm bells go off and parents are informed of the child’s ‘abnormal behavior’ in the next Parent-Teacher meeting.

Parents are horrified at the child’s performance at school and quickly, remedial actions are taken in the form of closer monitoring or sending them off to a tuition or consulting a child counselor. Children are considered mistake-proof when they follow the laid down script faithfully – no deviations.

Our examination system looks for mistakes. It trips students with trick questions. The idea is to set up a trap much like a hunter who sets up a snare for unsuspecting animals. Those who make mistakes are punished. Children beat themselves up over ‘silly mistakes’. The big trophy of 100% marks goes to the best photocopier – one who creates an exact copy of the original script – no deviations.

The formative years of our life are spent faithfully following a well-drafted script. We have ready-made scripts written by the able script writers around us. We are surrounded by rules, regulations and guidelines. The purpose is to conform. Deviations are discouraged and punished. By this time, we have become smart enough to learn the consequence of deviations – ranging from a rap on the knuckles and going much beyond. We learn to avoid making mistakes – no deviations.

By this time, Life resembles a long factory assembly line where products are fabricated to clear specifications. Those who end up exactly as per the specifications are considered victors while others are pronounced defective of varying degrees. The extent of defects is known to determine our prospects in life. The lesson to be learnt: no deviations.

At last, the factory spits us out and we suddenly meet Life.

Life follows no script. There are no script writers to turn to. The ability to deal with Life cannot be reduced to a set of formulas. Every time Life throws a challenge at us, we realize that each challenge is different and each person’s response to a similar challenge is not the same. To make it more complex, Life is no longer the black and white format that we were hitherto used to as we were growing up. It is now shades of grey and the shades keep changing.

Meanwhile, the ‘make-no-mistake’ approach has transformed us into obedient men and women, always looking for that script to follow. We keep looking over our shoulder to seek reassurance from others. We don’t stick our neck out, we don’t take risks. We walk well-trodden paths and follow popular choices. We conform.

The world is changing rapidly. There is a new terminology for the future world – it is called VUCA – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. The old rules will no longer work and the new rules are not formed yet – for all you know, there may never be such ‘rules’. The changes in the world are going to be rapid and tumultuous.

In the absence of scripts and norms, success in the VUCA world will belong to the nimble-footed, the risk-takers, the adaptable and the quick learners. Unlearning and learning will be a continuous process. Paths will need to be formed while on the run. In the absence of scripts and norms, experimentation will be key. It will mean moving away from traditional paths. Deviations will be necessary and therefore, mistakes will happen. In fact, such deviations or mistakes could lead to path-breaking innovations and inventions. We already know that for every successful invention, there are several failed prototypes – in other words, mistakes.

One can imagine what will happen to those who have developed a habit of closely following a ready-made script, ensuring zero deviations from it and making no mistake. How will they survive in the VUCA world?

Mistakes or deviations will be necessary in the future. As a matter of fact, in the VUCA world, such deviations or mistakes could be placed at a premium.

Make no mistake! Mistakes have a bright future.

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