One Liverpool music teacher's tepid response to having two members of The Beatles in his class points to a valuable lesson about creativity, says Tom Kelley. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Thomas Edison one said: "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Tom Kelley, partner at IDEO and co-author of "Creative Confidence," tells us that, in order to innovate, you have to be willing to try—and fail.
Sir Ken Robinson – whose TED Talk on creativity is one of the most popular of all time – once tracked down a music teacher in the port town of Liverpool, England. The teacher had taught two of the most famous Liverpudlians of all time - Paul McCartney and George Harrison - and Robinson asked if he had noticed anything special about McCartney and Harrison when they were students. The response? Not a thing. That's right: a single teacher in Liverpool, England had half of The Beatles in his music class, and he noticed nothing out of the ordinary.
The Wright Brothers chose Kitty Hawk, North Carolina as their test flight site specifically to conceal failed attempts. Credit: John T. Daniels / Wikimedia Commons
Paul and George’s less-than-stellar marks in music point to a vital lesson about creativity, says Kelley, who notes it’s important to keep in mind just how frequently inventors and innovators fall flat in their pursuit of greatness. Thomas Edison, widely regarded as the father of electricity and the most prolific American inventor of all time, went through 1,000 failed attempts before developing the filament he used in his light bulb. The Wright Brothers, inventors of the first airplane, specifically chose Kitty Hawk, North Carolina as the location of their test flights because it was just secluded enough to hide all their failed attempts from the press.
Though we often tend to view creativity as an innate talent, Kelley says it’s a skill you have to work at to perfect, just like anything else. You wouldn’t go to a ski slope and tell the instructor, “Yes, I’d like to learn to ski, but I don’t want to fall down.”
“It’s the same with innovation, the same with experimentation,” Kelley says. “You have to be able to be willing to try stuff.”