In 2010 a grand 'Festival of Errors' was organised by the Ecole Normale Superieure, in Paris. They organised it as a celebration of the importance of mistakes, they claimed almost all great scientific breakthroughs had not been by design.
After inoculating several dishes with the bacterium staphylococcus, Alexander Fleming forgot to cover them before going on holiday. On his return, one of the dishes had grown mould. Fleming observed that the bacteria around the mould were all dead, discovering that the mould Penicillium had antibacterial properties.
In 1839 Charles Goodyear accidentally dropped some India rubber mixed with sulphur on to a hot stove, by doing so, he discovered the vulcanisation process which made possible the commercial use of rubber.
My favourite, chef George Crum invented crisps in 1853. He did so, when a customer at his restaurant in New York, returned his fried potatoes to the kitchen, saying they were no good. In anger, Crum sliced them as thinly as possible, over-fried them and doused them in salt. The customer was delighted and the crisp was born.
These examples show the benefits of making mistakes. They remind us that we are born to make mistakes, it is a natural part of everyday life. Young children will 'have a go', they're not afraid of being wrong. They learn that way, in many senses we only advanced through making mistakes.
As we grow up we have this natural behaviour suppressed. Schools encourage children not to make mistakes, to get things 'right'. This continues through into the world of work, where the making of mistakes can be criticised and mocked.
However, at the core of this lies a paradox, as illustrated by the festival of errors. Making mistakes underpins innovation and enterprise.
Innovation- by its' very nature is fraught with potential calamity, stepping outside the box can be painful and is full of risk.
Entrepreneurs - risk-taking businesspeople - inhabit the thin line between the established and known world and the new and uncharted world.
Successive governments have said such innovative behaviour and entrepreneurial spirit is beneficial and essential, and yet we have stigmatized the making of mistakes. We may say you learn from mistakes, but on the whole our schools and businesses don't support that way of being.
This is reflected in relationships as well. Many men I know do not want to admit to mistakes or failures, and they will often cover a mistake with a lie. 'I forgot to buy the milk on my way home.' becomes 'the shop didn't have any milk left.' When pressed, they may continue to lie and bluster, instead of admitting culpability.
Out of experience I have learnt it is a lot simpler to admit mistakes than try to perpetuate myths. The truth is always better, this is entrepreneurial behaviour, and is attractive to others. I am seeking to encourage men to be entrepreneurs not only in work, but also in their relationships. Make mistakes and admit to them. That way we will all benefit from the shared experience.