Beyond perfectionism, an invitation to creativity

Some time ago my partner dragged me to a high-intensity yoga class - the style is called Ashtanga. It was difficult for me to keep up the whole class, as we moved quickly from pose to pose and my grip continued to get worse as the sweat loosened my hold on the mat -- I felt like I was "off track" all class. We got to the end of the class and began to slow down. The instructor said something that resonated deeply, and unearthed a wall that I'd built within myself. I cannot remember exactly what he said, but it was an invitation to let go of being right or getting it right - it broke through that invisible wall and opened up something I had been holding onto -- the idea that I need to get things 'right' or that I cannot make mistakes. This is ultimately a self-limiting belief. Permission to fail, get things wrong, make mistakes and be free to play is a wonderful gift. I've come to realize it’s the best avenue to learning, growth and innovation! Tim Brown, of IDEO, said that in some ways the learning that can come out of failure can be more valuable than success.

I like to think about failure through the lens of design thinking. Design thinking is a is a creative way of looking at, and applying strategy, to complex problems. It puts a heavy focus on the user experience as a source of wisdom and insight. Design thinking also leverages failure and learning above “always getting it right”. After all, embracing failure allows for continual learning and development of your approach and opens up new creative possibilities.

Design thinking has allowed me to reframe mistakes as design opportunities, which allows for more possibility rather than thinking of it as "fixing" a problem I can think of it as creating something that might not have been possible without the "mistake" in the first place. This allows for a complete shift at work, in relationships and for life in general. Sitting with mistakes as a design possibility is something that is a great reframe for organizations, but also as individuals. Consider the following experiences:

  • When you're wowed by a work of art that was created out of a mistake
  • That conflict you had with someone that brought you closer or taught you more about yourself.
  • A time when your resourcefulness in a difficult situation has allowed you to experience your strength.
  • Creating something out of a less than ideal situation brought you fulfillment.
  • Those moments when experiencing your resiliency brought you closer to the person you want to become.

Don't get me wrong, approaching the world (and yourself) with the lens of what could be improved can be a great skill. It is an equally important, and often neglected, to look at the problems and think about how to approach it within the parameters that exist (even when we think the parameters are flawed). These are the skills that need to be reclaimed in non-profit, social justice movements and within us as individuals. If you're focusing on the problems that exist around or within you, I invite you to look at the situation from a creative lens - what's possible?

Nic Etheridge Calder