the question to ask when you make a mistake

paul noth for the new yorker

paul noth for the new yorker

This cartoon was the subject of the New Yorker’s great cartoon caption contest, where readers are invited to submit their caption for the cartoonists drawing. Our favorite caption (that didn’t win) was:

Mistakes were made.

We make so many mistakes daily that it was heartening to see this image of Noah’s miscalculation.

Although we don’t know what we’d do with a surplus of giraffes, we are firm believers that mistakes usually yield gold, if only in the lesson they teach. But often they yield,or lead us to, unexpected solutions.. We love the way Edward de Bono frames it in the great Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step (Perennial Library).

Rather than take the attitude ‘This won’t work, let’s throw it out’…


This is not going to work but what does it lead us to?

It is the one of the most productive strategies we know of when a mistake has been made. De Bono’s book is full of smart, easy tools like that.

Lateral Thinking cover

While we’re on the subject of mistakes, we thought we’d leave you with The Oh Hello’s song I Have Made Mistakes, for your listening pleasure.

I have made mistakes, I continue to make them
the promises I’ve made, I continue to break them
and all the doubts I’ve faced, I continue to face them
but nothing is a waste if you learn from it 

and the sun, it does not cause us to grow
it is the rain that will strengthen your soul
and it will make you whole

we have lived in fear, and our fear has betrayed us
but we will overcome the apathy that has made us
because we are not alone in the dark with our demons
and we have made mistakes
but we’ve learned from them

and the sun, it does not cause us to grow
it is the rain that will strengthen your soul
and it will make you whole

and oh my heart, how can I face you now?
when we both know how badly I have let you down
and I am afraid of all that I’ve built
fading away

It’s from their album Through the Deep, Dark Valley

Related posts: discover the ‘negative’ path to happiness
‘fail better’ (samuel beckett)
steve jobs: one simple fact that can broaden your life
on the rightness of being wrong via TED
what is failure?
20 second therapy for fear of failure
the dalai lama on $$, loss, “failure”

7 Responses to the question to ask when you make a mistake

  1. sillygirl 06.18.2013 at 8:59am #

    So what was the winning caption – thought yours was wonderful.

  2. sahana martin 06.18.2013 at 9:45am #

    ” a surplus of giraffes ” , i love that !

    how could that be a mistake : )

  3. Sally 06.18.2013 at 9:49am #

    The winning caption was:
    “I wouldn’t say ‘favorite’ animal.”

  4. Sally 06.18.2013 at 10:29pm #

    yeah right!

  5. Marni Goldshlag 06.19.2013 at 9:02am #

    My favorite book about mistakes, which I’ve given to a number of kids, is Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg. Check it out.

  6. sillygirl 06.25.2013 at 9:43am #

    Sally, I think”Mistakes were made.” was a better caption! And I agree that it is important to make mistakes – like taking a wrong turn and stumbling on something you never dreamed about.

  7. Sally 06.25.2013 at 10:06am #

    YES! “Stumbling on something you never dreamed about…”

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