“They say you gotta stay hungry…” – Bruce Springsteen, Dancing In The Dark
There’s a cold comfort in being wrong. Isn’t there? A realisation that all the options hadn’t been considered, that there was still more to uncover, that you didn’t have all the answers. You may not get what you want from the situation, but you still got something. You made new mistakes. Only the most juvenile among us make the same ones twice, most of the time it’s a twist on the original. A little more complex, and sometimes we only realise it is a new mistake in hindsight, it can feel so similar at the time. And we do our best to steel ourselves against those same mis-steps in the future.
I once had a brilliant young guy working for me at an ad agency in Toronto. Ryan had grown up with two deaf parents and a recalcitrant younger sister who seemed to feel the world owed her something for the home life she had been born into. Ryan took the opposite approach. He would come into my office, and we would discuss the day ahead, and we would invoke the spirit of Gary Vaynerchuck in this speech, reminding ourselves that “Hustle is the most important word. Ever.”
One day Ryan came in and he was feeling a bit off. The day before hadn’t been a smooth run, and we’d both been putting out fires. That morning he told me the only thing he worried about was making mistakes. I smiled and told him that while I worried about things, I did my best to worry about things I could control. I told him there was a better chance of the sun rising tomorrow than there was of him not making a mistake, that I made them constantly. I told him to worry about his projects, his clients, their business. And I told him he would make mistakes every day of his life, and he should be glad to do so.
Any reader of this site will know that time does not bring with it an increased ability for avoiding mistakes, just further opportunity to take responsibility for them. I think this is why we have such a fascination with CEOs. We’re now hailing Steve Jobs in a fashion that borders on deifying the man. For me, the quintessential trait is his passion for making new mistakes. I don’t believe he made them lightly, but I believe he fully understood why at the time. He canned Apple’s first tablet device shortly after returning to the company, and acknowledged the existence of another similar device in 2004, six years before the iPad finally arrived. Is it even possible to comprehend the number of iterations, dead ends, and ideas that were killed off in that time? How many new mistakes can you be willing to make? How successful do you want to be?
In the end, I told Ryan to be more afraid of being right than being wrong. When you’re wrong, you’re learning, you’re discovering something about yourself, you’re growing. When you’re right though, that’s when the trouble starts. That’s when the business grows. That’s when the phone rings. When you’re right it’s a call to arms, it is life asking you to step outside your comfort zone. You can of course ignore the call, and stay being right, but who aspires to a lifetime spent saying “I told you so”? Being right is an opportunity to be wrong, to make a whole new set of mistakes, to learn that which cannot be taught in a classroom. And the only benefit that comes from being right is more opportunity to be wrong. That is, my friends, a good thing. Curiosity didn’t kill the cat, complacency did.
I learned a lot from Ryan, and I hope he learned something from me. More than anything, I hope he is still making new mistakes. And I hope he stays hungry.
I hope you do too.
Picture courtesy of Elyce Feliz