Sunday, February 17, 2008

Trial and Error

Doug Belshaw has a post today in which some students from Liverpool interview Ken Robinson about creativity. Robinson was witty and genial and insightful as always, but my favorite passage this:

One thing about creativity is that often you make mistakes, you get it wrong. I worked with a guy a while ago who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry... I asked him one day when we were doing this work for the government how many of his experiments failed and he said "About ninety percent of them." And he said "But really, failing isn't quite the right word for it. If you're trying to be creative, you make all kinds of mistakes, and so what you're finding out is what works, and to find out what works you often have to discover all these things that don't work. And that's the whole process of science and art; it's very unusual to get it right the first time.

There's a parallel quote I just tracked down from Robinson's TED talks video that comes at the same point from a different angle:

Kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they will have a go… they are not frightened of being wrong. I don’t mean to say that being wrong is being creative. But what we do know is that if you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original. If you are not prepared to be wrong. By the time we get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong. And we run our companies like this by the way. We stigmatize mistakes. And now we’re running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. And the result is we are educating people out of their creative capacities. Picasso once said this. He said, ‘All children are artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up."

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