Robert Rauschenberg, arguably one of the most influential American artists of the 20th century, died on Monday at the age of 82. The obituaries are flooding in, and this one in the Times has a most wonderful quote:
“Screwing things up is a virtue,” [Rauschenberg] said when he was 74. “Being correct is never the point. I have an almost fanatically correct assistant, and by the time she re-spells my words and corrects my punctuation, I can’t read what I wrote. Being right can stop all the momentum of a very interesting idea.”
There’s a good lesson about innovation practice in there… Room for blue sky thinking, brainstorming and hurtling down blind alleys can be precisely the way to achieve greatness… or perhaps nothing tangible at all. The latter scares people, but the process itself is of huge worth.
On a related note, we’re always trying to get companies to talk about screwing up. Not because we want to point a finger and laugh, but because looking at mistakes can be such a good way to learn the right (or at least, better) way of doing something. In these days of spin and fanatically protective PR, it can be difficult to persuade executives to discuss mistakes, but as the world gets ever more complex, this kind of insight becomes even more critical and provides us with lessons we should all heed.