The football player Michel Platini once said: “Soccer games consist of mistakes; therefore a perfect game ends 0:0.” So in order for interesting things to happen, mistakes must be made. Perfection, it turns our, is boring and sterile.
Innovations may be viewed as deviations from the fixed, “correct” ways of thinking, acting or perceiving that we were following before. Therefore, mistakes are an important component of creative processes. If we did things perfectly, in an algorithmic, systematic fashion, we would never discover anything new.
With respect to the old system of doing things, the new way is “wrong”. We can see this in the case of biological mutations, of changes in language, culture and society as well as in technological innovations. We can also observe this in individual processes of learning, especially in children.
The new thing in its initial form might be far from perfect, in a state of incompleteness where neither the thing nore our knowledge about it is finished. After something new has been found by mistake, a process of optimization might then set in where small changes are made, until a new equilibrium has been found, a new state of perfection. This often involves an increase in efficiency by the omission of unnecessary components. As my grandfather, an engineer, used to say: “A machine is finished if you cannot remove any of its parts again”. But even for the engineer, the machine in that complete and perfect state becomes boring. His job is done and he turns away.
However, that new state of perfection, the end point of the process of optimization, might be the starting point for the next cycle of innovation. We break out of the perfect into something new.
To err is human, as the romans used to say. Most of the time, this is understood as a negative, but unavoidable aspect of the human existence. Some mistakes indeed have bad consequences. But we should also note that mistakes are a key part of our creativity. Being creative makes us error-prone, but being error-prone also makes us creative. And creativity is the core part of our intelligence. It is also, I suppose, what defines us as humans. If we were perfect, we would be like insects. Creativity is the ability to break out of the existing perfect systems. And that is how we can score a goal.
(The picture is from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Street_art_soccer.JPG. Regular readers of my blog might know I am not interested in sports, particularly soccer, at all, so I am deviating here from my normal structure. That might be a mistake…)