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As a child, one of my biggest fears was doing something wrong. I was terrified of making mistakes and saying (or writing) an incorrect answer. I was terrified of breaking some rule somewhere. Even today traces of this need for perfection remain: As a writer, I get embarrassed if I misspell a word, don’t know the definition of a common word or worse, use the wrong word altogether!

Even though I know better, I still get sucked into thinking that first drafts must be flawless, and successful solutions should arrive instantly. And I still worry about failing and making mistakes, thinking that some authority figure is going to ground me (even though my parents never did and couldn’t have been more supportive).

That’s a lot of pressure.

And it’s this kind of pressure — for perfection, for coming up with the best solution right away, for not doing anything to embarrass ourselves — that can paralyze our creative process, our creative thinking.

Instead, the key is to give ourselves the permission to be wrong. Very wrong. Because creativity thrives in spaces where flaws, messes and wacky things are free to roam.

As British actor and writer John Cleese says in this 1991 speech (which I love):

“So you cannot be playful if you’re frightened that moving in some direction will be ‘wrong’ — ‘something you shouldn’t have done.’ Well, you’re either free to play or you’re not. As Alan Watts puts it, ‘you can’t be spontaneous within reason.’ So you’ve got to risk saying things that are silly and illogical and wrong. And the best way to get the confidence to do that is to know that while you’re being creative, nothing is wrong. There’s no such thing as a mistake and any drivel may lead to the breakthrough.” 

This kind of perspective invites flexibility and exploration, which are also key for creativity. It lets us let loose — to broaden our thinking, to question conventions. We’re able to brainstorm without censoring or filtering ourselves (or others). Because as we’re jotting down ideas, there’s no room for judgment or criticism. We don’t want to stomp on an idea before we’ve named it, before we’ve gotten to know it.

So we welcome creativity, we roll out the red carpet for it, by letting ourselves take risks, by saying that anything goes. In fact, the next time you’re trying to reconnect to your creativity, go out of your way to be wrong, silly and illogical. And encourage others to do the same (e.g., your kids, coworkers). Make this your motto — or a slogan : “Silly is the way to go!” “Wrong is the new right in creativity.” Or borrow Cleese’s wise words:  “while you’re being creative, nothing is wrong.”

Here are a few ways to welcome the wrong, silly and illogical to help you reignite your creativity:

  • Make a list of all the “wrong” ways to do something (e.g., cooking, cleaning, writing, working, dancing, driving, hosting a dinner party, being creative).
  • Respond to serious problems with silly solutions.
  • Make up 10 illogical inventions.
  • Misspell words on purpose.
  • Draw letters backwards and upside down.
  • Create a few images for the words “wrong,” “silly” and “illogical.” Draw whatever comes to mind for each word.
  • List 10 risks you can take in your creative process. Take one risk this week.

Embrace being wrong. Invite it into your creative process. Because in creating a space where there’s no one right response (and silly and illogical answers are awesome), we’re able to unlock new worlds and limitless possibilities.

Plus, this kind of attitude can help us become more relaxed in general and maybe even loosen our tight grip on perfection in other areas of our lives.