I am currently reading The Success Principles by Jack Canfield, cocreator of Chicken Soup for the Soul.
The 13th Principle is about taking action and Mr. Canfield discused failing forward. He shared this story, which according to him, is one of his favorites.
There’s this famous research scientist who had made several very important medical breakthroughs. He was being interviewed by a newspaper reporter, who asked him why he thought he was able to achieve so much than the average person. In other words, what set him so far apart from others?
He responded that it all came from a lesson his mother had taught him when he was young. He’d been trying to take a bottle of milk out of the ref, when he lost his grip and spilled the entire contents on the kitchen floor. His mother, instead of scolding him, said “What a wonderful mess you’ve made! I’ve rarely seen such a huge puddle of milk. Well, the damage is already done. Would you like to get down and play in the milk before we clean it up?”
Indeed, he did. And after a few minutes, his mother continued, “You know, whenever you make a mess like this, eventually you have to clean it up. So how would you like to do that? We could use a towel, sponge, or mop. Which do you prefer?”
After they were finished cleaning up the milk, she said, “What we have here is a failed experiment in how to carry a big bottle of milk with two tiny hands. Let’s go out in the backyard, fill the bottle with water, and see if you can discover a way to carry it without dropping it.” And they did.
The scientist then remarked that it was at that moment that he knew he didn’t have to be afraid to make mistakes. Instead, he learned that mistakes are just opportunities for learning something new – which, after all, is what scientific experiments are all about.