if it's worth doing it is worth doing badly

if it's worth doing it is worth doing badlyDo you know how to upset a group? All you need to do is say the phrase “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” Even if someone agrees, very rarely will they want to do it badly.

A friend of mine, who wanted to be a writer, decided he needed some advice. He then set out to meet as many top writers that he could and often queued for many hours to meet authors like Stephen King (The Shining, Misery, It etc.) and J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter).

He would always ask them the same fundamental question, “How do I to get started as a writer?”

The reply was simply, “Write.”

This would prompt another question, “I don’t know how to, where do I start? Should I create an outline, have a plot ….write out the characters’ history?”

Back came the same response, “Write.”

Nervously he would then say, “But I’m no good……”

Then eventually he got the greatest advice, “If you want to write well, then you have to be willing to write badly. That’s been my own initial experience………now do you want me to sign that book or not?”

Wonderful mistakes

I remember my early schooldays. When the teacher asked the class questions I would always put my hand up and be ready to reply to everything. Whether I knew the answer or not, it never stopped me. I soon learnt that I was wrong for much of the time and so decided to avoid putting myself in this position for fear of getting it wrong, so I then kept my hand down. Thankfully the approach to education in schools these days has changed.

Mistakes provide us with a feedback loop. As we say in NLP “There is no failure, only feedback.”

When you first start off with something new and do it badly, you will be given much feedback rather quickly, whether you want it or not. But actually this will provide you with some useful revelations to help shape your future approach.

Let’s try an experiment based on that great composer of classical music, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He wanted to find two musical notes that loved each other. Now the following works well if you not a musician:

Go to any musical keyboard and play just the white keys until you find a particular sound that pleases you. Of course that is quite simplistic, but I doubt if it would surprise you to discover what tends to go through people’s heads:

  • I’m not a musician
  • I need training
  • I’m no good at music
  • It sounds bad

This experiment is aimed at non-musicians and you don’t need to be trained to a particular good or bad standard.  Just find some sounds that please you, they don’t have to please me, just you. For those of you who have access to a keyboard go and do this experiment now – for those of you who don’t, I’m wondering if you’re already trying to play a tune in your head. Either way, I’ll wait.

Welcome back.

You have just been composing music, how cool is that? You would have learnt what keys sound good together and those that don’t. Dr. Win Wenger (researcher, author and teacher in the field of human potential, brain power and creative thinking) proposed doing this exercise for 20 minutes each day as a way of learning to play music. Now, whereas this approach may not be so effective for sky diving, it can be applied in many other areas of life. When you are learning from a confident and skilled teacher, it is worth bearing in mind that you are learning from someone who has already experienced and learnt from their mistakes.

Fastest way to learn

When we first learn something new we start from the big picture. Once you begin to engage with that information you start to make distinctions….it is as easy as riding a bike.

To learn how to ride a bike you can read about it, or if there was a university course on ‘the theory of riding bikes’ you’d gain information that way. But, if you don’t actually get on the bike and ride it you will never ride a bike. Why is that? Because you have to be willing to do it badly.

From the example I gave at the beginning you can now see that this even applies to great authors. Write and write badly and only then can you look to improve by re-writing.

So how do we apply this to our own lives…careful, the following is not for the faint hearted!

Not for the faint hearted

Taking the scenario of my schooldays you can see that society wants the right answer. So when you go out of your way to make as many mistakes as you can, you will stand out from the crowd. On the plus side you may have a collection of funny stories to tell.

That important first step is to decide what you want to do, e.g.

  • Become a writer
  • Become a singer
  • Become a chef
  • Become a business owner
  • Ask someone out for a date

Then go out and do it. Don’t worry about making mistakes as this will happen anyway.

Let’s take ‘asking someone out for a date’, where the first step would be to ask someone out. You may be bad at this, so your goal would be to ask twenty people out each week until you get good at it. You will learn a lot very fast. Now it is no good asking the same thing each time as all you’ll be doing is repeating the same single approach twenty times over. You don’t need to know all twenty ways of doing this at the beginning, so you might want to progress these gradually and perhaps try:

  • “Would you like to go out with me?” – direct
  • “Are you an angel who fell from the heavens?” – corny
  • “What would I have to ask you to get a date?” – exploring
  • “I’ve got tickets to see x (insert name of play here) would you like to go?” – action

The Beatles were used to failure

Yes, the Beatles.

The Beatles where an OK rock and roll band doing gigs around Liverpool. They failed an audition with Decca Records and ended up in Germany playing the Kaiserkeller music club in Hamburg. Not as great as it sounded as they had to play 6 to 8 hours every day…often Eight Days A Week.

They made many mistakes along the way by playing songs at the wrong pace and the audience would just switch off. They even misjudged audiences by playing the wrong song. However, they improved a little each time until the songs became better structured, they could read an audience well and eventually they become true performers.

In case you’ve not heard of The Beatles, they did eventually have had a few hit singles …..21 top ten hits alone in the UK.

Do you now have the courage and conviction to set yourself as an example to help others learn? It would be a mistake not to, wouldn’t it? Please do share your experiences by posting them below and we will celebrate your mistakes as you become hugely successful.

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  1. Olga Diamant says:

    Great blog John! Thank you for sharing!

    I agree 100%. That’s how I learned English (starting when I was 26 years old) and still learning now at 36. The same with many things, for example – kite surfing – I was prepared to fall over and over again in the cold water and get up over and over again until the wind and sea became part on me and I could fly above the water with happy smile covered in bruises and carrying sand in my ears 🙂

    I remember when I was a child I would run and play a lot, often fall and my knees were bleeding, I would cry and my grandparents or parents would treat my wounds and guess what – I would run again and again.
    The pain and “failure” didn’t stop us from playing when we were children. We didn’t afraid to look “stupid”.
    Suddenly when we become adults we get fear of pain and failure.
    When I asked my friend – why wouldn’t you try to learn kite surfing with me because I knew he wanted to learn it but stayed on the sunbed instead, and he said – I don’t want to look stupid in front of all the people on the beach!
    So we stay away from lots of life experiences because we afraid to do it badly and as a result to look stupid. The truth is – people so worried about themselves and focused on their own life that they wouldn’t even notice most of the time that you do it badly.
    Another popular answer is – if I do nothing, I don’t make mistakes.
    So every time I hear the little voice inside my head saying – you’re going to look stupid or you may suffer if you do it badly (including writing this post 😉 I just reply to it : it’s OK, thank you for warning me and trying to protect me. I’m still going to do it and it’s ok if I “fall” initially , I’ll still get up and run again because it’s so much fun and I wasn’t born to be afraid of or hide from LIFE.

    1. Hi Olga,
      Good to hear from you and thank you for sharing. Children are masters of failure, or could it be feedback. You know there is something in NLP that says “There is no failure only feedback.

  2. Great blog John and great feedback Olga!

    Recently my daughter had a birthday party where the kids had the opportunity to jump off a 20 metre tower…. for fun! All were expectedly nervous, but all but one were keen to jump and overcame their fears and were delighted that they had. One girl however, could not do it. We talked about it, she was brave enough to be at the top of this tower even considering the jump in my opinion. Anyway, I said that I did not want her to regret not jumping but that she would never be forced into something she was uncomfortable with. She was considering…. then my younger daughter came up the steps having decided to give it a go. She is 4 years younger than the nervous girl and this made her feel even worse. Even she can do it. I feel so stupid and like a wimp…. I said to her that whilst my younger daughter was ‘going for it’, she was still unaware of the risks whereas, this nervous girl was employing the logic that was coming with age and risk awareness to the situation. She did not take the plunge, but did not feel bad about herself. She had made a decision that was right for her.

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