Ode to the Better Mistake

The following text is my contribution to the designrelevant project by students from KISD (Köln International School of Design) who asked me to write about one of my old favorite topics; making ‘better mistakes’ …


I stumbled across this statement one day after a long foray through the world wide web and couldn’t get it out of my mind. Mistakes as something worth striving for. Isn’t that paradoxical as when we actually try so hard to avoid making them?

But it’s about making better mistakes. And I understood this statement wake-up call for action. As an encouragement to tackle the things where positive outcome seems “impossible” at first sight. To confront your fears with boldness. To be naive in a positive way and to radically counteract towards the scenario of failing. To have the guts to show the world who you are and what you can give — even if it’s not perfect yet.

This whole attitude was for me always a declaration of war against procrastination and the ultimate motivator to go ahead and just do the important things instead of wasting time to think about them endlessly or getting yourself distracted until it’s too late.

And regarding all our actions in life, whether we win or fail, it seems that in the end it all comes down to this: what have we learned? What can we take from our experiences? What can we give?

I think that with designing, like in football (or any sports for that matter), it’s the attitude that makes the important difference. Every professional is already equipped with an extraordinary physical condition, every player has a great technique after decades of training. But what’s really crucial is the motivation and stamina; the will to improve, to keep going, even if that sometimes means to make mistakes and look like a fool. Get up, keep fighting. The will to make better mistakes does therefore also mean to cultivate a healthy ignorance towards the steadily rising (and eminently human) negative thoughts about what others might think.

As modern designers (and human beings) we need this kind of attitude today more than ever. Because everything is or has been already there. Therefore we must try to be more courageous to do our own thing; radically going our very own way, bringing in our individuality — with a healty ignorance towards our own limits. Because only if we risk and accept to make mistakes do we have the chance to create something truly new. And we must keep shipping.

I’m convinced that in the end we are more happy when we can say that we did better mistakes in our lifes. Maybe we fell often but we stood up again. Every misstep teaches you so many important lessons. And being able admit having made a mistake — and learning from it — is better than having not even tried. Mistakes are eventually forgotten. But the feeling of regret having not dared to do the thing that scares you most, not having tried to followed your heart — that’s a fucked up feeling.

And the real paradox comes to light when you do the allegedly hard task: Then you might suddenly notice that the initial doubts and fears were unjustified. That said this whole attitude can be also seen as just a useful ‘mindhack’ for our mind wants to save us from risks which are mostly unreal and a natural protective mechanism wanting to prevent us from the new and unknown. This is what we fear. As soon as we face this fear stubbornly and determined the world is ours.