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Do you ever make mistakes? 

What do you do when you make them? 

Do you get mad and throw out what you started?  Or do you take time to celebrate the perceived error, potentially laugh at it and then tease out the learnings you can glean for the next attempt?

I recently challenged myself to create a working well that could be used by 4 and 5 year olds.  The purpose was to create a children’s gaming experience around a local castle in my hometown, where one of the historic features still standing is a well.  Giving kids the experience of how the Norman castle community collected their water felt a necessary part of the game!

For those that know me well, physics is not exactly my strong point, but I was determined and got my 4 year old son involved.  The easiest part of this creative process was to create the bucket (a recycled Kinder egg treat!), and the second easiest part was knowing that I would need some type of thread / rope to hang it off…however, the hardest part was figuring out how to wind the bucket up and down with water in it!!!

After several failed attempts of making the rope go up and down, it is fair to say that mummy got stressed!  The stress definitely started to reach a crescendo when my son continued to play with one of my failed experiments and made everything seemingly worse!  However, mid-scold, I had a parenting and innovation process enlightenment…

Well 1.jpg

I stopped to observe what my son had done and in actual fact, his natural instincts for play and experimentation, no matter the outcome, had actually enabled him to continue working with something I had given up on. 

While I thought he had tangled my rope into a knot never to be unravelled, in fact, through his tenacious approach to winding the string, my son discovered that all we were missing was the basic need of a handle!

That sounds completely obvious right…but before you judge my design process here…how many working wells have you tried to create in the moment with no pictures / instruction manuals or Google research! ????  A few Kid K’nex pieces later and voila…a handle was made and we had a working well!

But what is the real lesson here…

1)  PLAY!

The ingredient that unlocked success in this circumstance was “play”.  When we play, the rules of the game change which encourages us to experiment more openly, it therefore enables better collaboration and also unlocks the subconscious where your most creative thinking arguably comes from!  In addition, play promotes happiness, another critical ingredient for creativity. Happiness enables more divergent thinking, where as stress / unhappiness, promotes more closed mind thinking. 


In the creative process, you have to not only accept that mistakes will be made but be open to getting up close and personal with these perceived errors!  Doing something contra to what you think needs to happen can help you see things differently, but only if you are willing to look and be open to learning from it!  After all, there are famous innovations out there that happened through “error” i.e., the invention of the slinky and even potato chips!*


Why not invite someone into a creative process who has zero experience, stake, or vision in what you are trying to create?  Invite this person (or even thing!), to play with your earliest prototypes.  See what supposed mistakes they make and learn from them.  When creating something brand new…is anyone an expert in it yet?


Don’t forget to keep on asking different questions throughout the creative thinking process, even when you get frustrated!  The more and inventive questions you can ask, the more opportunities for discovery you will unearth!

Your mind is a well of creative thinking opportunity!  Practicing principles such as Playing, Observing, Questioning and Exploring will help you to unlock your nascent capability to think differently!