In an industrial setting, failure can be fatal—to the worker or to the bottom line.

If we’re building a giant factory, the building can’t fall down. If we’re mining 100,000 rands worth of ore, we need to move it the right way the first time. If we’re changing the legal conditions on a thousand life insurance policies, we can’t afford being sued if we do it wrong.


But if we’re trading hypotheses on a new scientific breakthrough, of course we have to be wrong before we can be right. If we’re inventing a new business model or writing a new piece of music or experimenting with new ways to increase the yield of an email campaign, of course we have to be willing to be wrong.

If failure is not an option, then neither is success.

The only source of innovation is the innovator willing to be usefully wrong. The new connection economy is to put together circles of people who challenge each other to be wronger and wronger still — until we find right.

That’s at the heart is discovering if the person you’re interviewing is comfortable being wrong, comfortably verbalising a theory and then testing it, right there and then. Instead of certainty and proof and a guarantee, our future is about doubt and fuzzy logic and testing.

We can (and must) teach these skills, starting with kids who are happy to build towers out of blocks (and watch them fall down) and continuing with the students who would never even consider buying a term paper to avoid an essay in college.

The creative adult is the child who got away.

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