Getting it Wrong: The art of being wrong the right way

Jan 6 • FEATURE SIDEBAR, NEWS & VIEWS, Op-Ed, ViewsNo Comments on Getting it Wrong: The art of being wrong the right way

Gina Gambony of WHQR caught up with me at the New Year’s Eve gala at Thalian Hall. My wife and I attended City Stage Co.’s strong production of “Hair.” In a culture that has become so cautious—so up-armored—it was refreshing to see so many members of our tribe singing naked onstage for a half-second. That half-second reminded me that under the thick armor of our ideologies and the many masks of our achievements we’re all members of the same Tribe, standing naked on life’s stage with about a half a second to sing.

Gina gave me a microphone. I wasn’t as naked as the cast, but after the show and a glass of bubbly, I was far less up-armored than usual. She asked me the most important thing I intended to do in 2015. In a half-second of accidental honesty I said, “Get more things wrong. Fail. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying.”

So there it is: If I have one overarching resolution for 2015, it’s to cultivate the art of being wrong. It’s not easy to be wrong in the right way. There’s an art to it. It’s pretty easy to say, “I got this,” before bungee jumping off a bridge without measuring the distance—believing you’ll bounce right back. It’s easy to start smoking cigarettes and bet you can stop at any time without any trouble. 

But there’s no art in getting it wrong without running the risk of getting it right. The true art of getting it wrong resides in that space where there is at least a small risk of getting it even a little right. 

If you think I’m crazy to willingly cultivate the art of being wrong, you may be right. If I’m crazy, so are Neil deGrasse Tyson, the developers of FailCon and local inventor Jock Brandis.

The narrative Tyson helped weave in “Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey” series was a narrative of failure, accident and discovery that runs counter to more typical highlight reels of history and science, wherein success is inevitable and failure is not an option. One of the concerns many scientists share in these market-driven days of economic scrutiny is that if you only get funded for asking questions with definable answers, you’re only going to ask relatively easy questions.  I’m pretty sure Andy Wood would have a much tougher time getting $10,000 to study the impact of man-made climate change on our local bees than the U.S. Department of Defense had in getting millions to study how to optically guide a sniper bullet. I’m sure the EXACTO bullet is a cost-effective technological advance, but we already seem adept at answering questions of killing. Meanwhile, we’re not so skilled at even asking questions of living.

FailCon is an annual entrepreneurial conference that appears to attempt to celebrate getting it wrong. Failing frequently yet never allowing our failures to define us fuels our future efforts. Actually, it fuels our future. 

In preparation for the turning of the calendar, I watched Jock Brandis’ TED Hampstead “Ox-Carts and Sticky Notes” talk again. The Full Belly process is remarkably similar to other eventually successful scientific, artistic or entrepreneurial adventures: about 10 thousand near-misses with a yield of one or two really brilliant workable solutions. One of Jock’s guidelines: “Fail early, fail often, fail better, and fail as publicly as possible.”    

Within minutes of my meeting with Gina, I had an opportunity to test my resolve and experiment with most of Jock’s guidelines at the karaoke set-up for the celebration. Taking the microphone at the local pub can bring on nerves. Singing at a party of Wilmington theatre elite was downright daunting. But I answered the bell. From what my inner critic tells me, I started a few beats late, a half-step low, didn’t sing into the microphone, and squinted at the prompter the whole time.

I got so much of it wrong I had to laugh. With 2015 less than an hour old, I tried something new, sang with my son and cultivated my first failure. A major success.

I’m looking forward to a great year of getting a lot of things wrong in the right way.

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