Can you imagine a world without Post-It Notes? Well, you almost didn’t have them… the adhesive used to make sticky notes sticky was a total mistake. In 1968, inventor Spence Silver was tinkering with adhesives and developed something quite unusual. According to the 3M website, Dr. Silver tried to get 3M brass to champion the new glue for five years. But it took Art Fry, a visionary at the company, to see the practical use — he made a bookmark for his choir hymnal, and the purpose of the adhesive became clear. Post-It Notes were rolled out in 1980 and have become a great American product.
If our scientist-hero had been a perfectionist, he might have thrown out that batch of adhesive because he’d made a “mistake”. Fortunately, Dr. Silver took the time to learn from his mistake — and to see if he could do something with it.
Learning from mistakes. Something we’ve been taught all our lives, huh? But how many of us really do it? Seems like what we actually do is orient our lives so we don’t make mistakes. We so control and prepare and plan that we allow no room for mistakes. No room for the creativity mistakes inspire. No room, then, for serendipity.
I love serendipity. Serendipity can only happen when you allow yourself room for it — by first saying, “oops”. Think of the guy who first thought: “What if I put peaches in…salsa?” Or the guy who missed his flight and met his future spouse? Or the woman who took a wrong turn… and avoided an accident. Or the scientist who screwed up a batch of glue, and became a millionaire?
Tightly controlling all aspects of our lives may help us feel safe, and unchallenged… but at what cost? We set up an impossible standard to live by — perfection — and then deal with the stress of not being able to meet “perfect” very often.
I’m face-to-face with my shortcomings everytime I’m on a golf course. Did you know that less that one half of one percent of all amateur golfers actually make par on every hole in a single round of golf? Yet, every golf course in the world is set up for the perfect player. The vast majority of golfers are far from perfect, and they keep on playing. How do they do it? Many golf instructors suggest golfers establish their own par for a hole: “I usually score six here, so if I do better than that, great!”
If you struggle with being perfect, think about setting your own “par”. How do you usually do this task? What’s good enough for you? Don’t worry about the guy in the next cubicle, or the gal next to you in line, or those insistent voice of your mother in your head… what’s your “par”? Shoot for your own par, make mistakes and leave room for serendipity. What will you create?