“A good laboratory, like a good bank or a corporation or government, has to run like a computer. Almost everything is done flawless, by the book, and all the numbers add up to the predicted sums. The days go by. And then, if it is a lucky day, and a lucky laboratory, someone makes a mistake: the wrong buffer, something in one of the blanks, a decimal misplaced in reading counts, the warm room off by a degree and a half…Whatever, once the results come in, something is obviously screwed up, and then the action can begin.
The misreading is not the important error: it opens the way. The next step is the crucial one. If the investigator can bring himself to say, “But even so, look at that!” then the new finding, whatever it is, is ready for snatching. What is needed, for progress to be made, is the move based on the error.”
This reflection from The Medusa and the Snail totally captivated me when I came across it today, not just because it’s so wonderfully written, but because it offers such a refreshing take on making mistakes. It invites us to view a mistake, not as error that derails us or flings us backward, but as an opportunity that can open the door to exciting new possibilities and results.
Most people will say that they’ve learned more from their mistakes than from their successes. And yet, just the idea of making a mistake makes me uneasy. So often, we play it safe in our writing because we want to avoid making mistakes. With this in mind, we may buy into some formula or concept that someone else has used successfully because we know it works. And yet, it’s when we experiment with something new that something exciting emerges. Have you ever found yourself taking a wrong turn in your writing only to find out that it opened up a whole new world for you?