Brilliant Blunders!

Brilliant Blunders!

by elainesuess

Ira Flatow hosts a radio show called Science Friday on National Public Radio. As you can imagine, it airs on Friday (yes), and it’s about Science (that’s right).

Weird Science

Some of the topics in recent weeks have included:  Insects May Be The Taste of The Next Generation, Resetting the Theory of Time, and The Perils of Plankton.

I don’t know about you, but I find most of this stuff fascinating. Curiosity, after all, is my greatest character strength, as reported by the VIA institute on Character.

I promise, however, that I’m not writing this particular post about bugs, time, or the stuff of the oceans. The latest Science show however, is a whole. other. thing. Not only does it pique my interest but it also includes great lessons for leaders!

Brilliant Blunders

Today, Ira Flatow interviewed astrophysicist and author Mario Livio. His recent book, Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin To Einstein, “explores the colossal errors committed by scientific greats, from chemist Linus Pauling’s botched model of DNA, to Charles Darwin’s failure to understand genetics—the very mechanism of natural selection.”

Admittedly, I haven’t read the book yet, but I found listening to the author both interesting and instructional.

Trial and Error, and More Error

So what is this thing about blunders and brilliance? The author contends that the whole process of science is built around finding something that doesn’t work so that we can find out what does.

As an example, he talks about Lord Kelvin who was an eminent physicist. He was so well respected that he was buried alongside Newton. His blunder, however, was that he calculated the age of the  earth, and was off by almost a factor of 50. A big mistake for a scientist!

Addicted To Being Right

Ira wondered if Kelvin knew he was wrong. The author says, “it was pointed out to him that he could be wrong, but he never accepted that. In his old age he became very, very stubborn and he opposed almost everything new that anybody would suggest.”

The author goes on to observe that “some people, after being right for so many years, become addicted to being right, and it becomes difficult to admit that they were wrong in something.”

Do you know anyone like that? Leaders who are afraid to make a mistake, and admit that they have?


We all know the facts about Babe Ruth. One year, he led the league in strikeouts in the same year he hit an amazing 60 home runs. Swimming champion Diana Nyad continues to fail on her epic swim from Cuba to the US, but she learns, and keeps trying. Madam Curie says that she “was taught that the way of progress was never swift or easy.”

That means embracing mistakes so we can find what works.

The Brilliant Blunders author speaks of how each blunder led to incredible breakthroughs.

Leaders shouldn’t be afraid to make mistakes, but rather, accept them as opportunities to advance.

Here’s wishing you a blunderful week, and the learning and confidence that can come along with it!

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