On the role of mistakes in the process of creativity

On the role of mistakes in the process of creativity

I try to set aside a little time each week to build cigar box guitars. They are easy to make and they sound really good. The best place to learn about making cigar box guitars is at Cigar Box Nation, where makers post photos, videos, and plans of their musical creations. Here, you’ll encounter hundreds of ingenious variations on the basic theme of a stick, a box, and some strings.

Recently, I came across an essay at Cigar Box Nation by “C.B. Gitty” called “On the Role of Mistakes in the Process of Creativity.” Gitty’s insights on how mistakes are valuable teachers applies not just to builders of cigar box guitars, but to makers of anything.


[I]n all but the most extreme mess-ups, something neat happens. The dark and dirty side of the joy that is CBG making opens up and the question is asked: OK, how can I fix this and make it look good. Make it look like this was all part of the design. And that is where, I have found, some of the best magic happens. In almost every case (except a couple where I really REALLY messed up), the end result has been better than it would have been if I had not made the mistake. And I come out of it with a new technique or two, a new idea for decoration or design, that I wouldn’t have had.

I find what Gitty writes here to be absolutely true. It’s a good thing to remember the next time you are making something and things go wrong. It just might open up an opportunity for something neat to happen.

(Above: my most recent mistake-riddled cigar box guitar. See close-up here.)

2 thoughts on “On the role of mistakes in the process of creativity

  1. Ookseer says:

    I learned from my third grade art teacher “Boo-boos can be beautiful”. Though I was fed a lot of aphorisms in school this is the only one that stuck with me. I tried to adult-size the language to “Mistakes create.”

    Regardless of how you say it that little saying has become a valuable tool in my box. When something goes wrong on a creative project it can be crushing. But there’s nothing like the unexpected to get the real creativity flowing. Remembering that rather than letting frustration take over can let you even surprise yourself with what you can do.

    I never expected to get a valuable life lesson from my 3rd grade art teacher, but there it is.

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Mark Frauenfelder is the founding Editor-in-Chief of Make: magazine, and the founder of the popular Boing Boing blog.

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