Creativity Uses Failure

Although Thomas Edison remains a hotly debated character, he is generally considered a creative genius. He is also considered by many the greatest inventor ever to live. He once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Portrait of Thomas Alva Edison with phonograph

Edison’s Light Bulb Moment

This is the creative tenacity that leads to light bulbs of success. His invention of the lightbulb was the final result of many failed ideas. But maybe we all start out closer to being creative geniuses than most of us end up. Consider this quote by Picasso:

“all children are artists, some just remain that way.”

For evidence look at NASA’s test that was given to children. These children scored (mostly) at the genius level on these tests. But when tested later in life, this was not the case. When tested later still, they scored even lower. This leads one to believe that we are born with creative capacities that are perhaps dulled by social conditioning. This is something that can also be looked at through the prism of perceived reality. 

Nature vs Nurture

We have tens of thousands of inputs we are processing every day, and the way our brains are trained to find certain ones important and others not so, causes us to filter the reality. Inevitably, we miss large parts of what’s going on around us every day just because we train ourselves to become blind to them. A case that illustrates this point is how in certain languages people do not perceive colors on a certain spectrum. 

Another example of a similar phenomenon can be found in the article about people perceiving dress color differently.

It is said that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but is creativity in the mind of the perceiver?

The fear of failure is also connected to this as it undermines the creative instinct. From a young age, most of us (at least in the US educational system) become worried about being wrong and making mistakes, however, we miss how vital it is to guess. This is often ingrained in us from a young age from teachers, peers, and parents.

Big Bird Preaches It’s Ok to Make Mistakes

But our natural inclination is to make mistakes because we inherently know that’s how we best learn and improve. When children learn to walk, for example, they don’t give up because they can’t get it right the first hundred times or so. It is a fear that we will say our words wrong. In fact, some linguists say that not fearing mistakes is one reason children pick up languages faster. Our adult brains…

The concept that creativity is often dependent on failures can be seen in an old time joke.  There was an entrepreneur who believed in his product and called it One Up.  Over the years, he had failures, but kept working on it through Two Up, Three Up and so forth.  Finally tired of failures at Six Up, he decided to sell his company.  The new people worked a little more and called the improved product Seven Up.

Another example of failures leading to success is the phonograph which was not developed for the initial purposes intended, but made a major impact. In fact, there are several inventions that were considered brilliant mistakes. The snowmaker is another great example.

Embrace the Journey

I have touched on the subject of failure before and I return to the topic because it is important to reiterate for myself and friends.  We should not be judged by our failures, but our willingness to risk, create, and persevere.  The process is the  journey, not the reward.  Of course, I am happy to be rewarded for effort, but embracing the actual journey is the determination of how one lives one’s life.  Creativity is natural in the human condition.  Our life experiences and education should nurture it.

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I am the author of Academic Betrayal and the award-winning Death: An Exploration. Also, I deliver a newsletter with insider news, tips, and tricks for expanding consciousness and creativity.

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