It is true that the majority of wisdom is gleaned from experience. It is also true that experience is the bitterest of all teachers. But, for those of us who can’t shake the urge to continually experiment with new ideas—to take them out into the world and “test them out” or “try them on for size” before either accepting or rejecting them—the hazards of experiential learning cannot be avoided. Only mitigated (hopefully). I am of the belief that those of us who are curious, adventurous, and playful enough (and who have a bizarre enough sense of humor) for this kind of behavior are not entirely “off” in our unconventional approach to gaining insights, and even wisdom, from perpetual experimentation.
As for me, I have a bit of a mischievous side. I mean no harm. But, I do have a tendency to do some things just to “see what will happen” (generally, my last words before either extraordinarily pissing someone off or embarking on one hell of an adventure). This can take the form of testing the real world applicability of concepts I’ve learned or read about, testing the merits of a brand new idea, or combining unlikely, or opposing, elements to see what, if anything, they will make. I like to go deep with ideas that really entice me. Very often, that means pushing boundaries and temporarily suspending all caution. Now, I don’t take a “let’s see what happens” approach to everything I do. (Thank God.) And I always try not to be irresponsible or neglectful of others.
I just like to tinker with ideas and take chances for the sake of learning—you know, just to “see what happens” if…
Because there’s always a chance that “what happens” will be marvelous.
It probably goes without saying that there are perils to this kind of approach to satisfying one’s curiosity. There are. Believe me. And if you can’t stomach the consequences, I would caution you against engaging in such behavior. It’s risky. I will, however, defend the merits of experimentation because I think, when mitigated properly, it has multiple, significant benefits. And let’s face it, for some of us, tinkering with ideas comes so naturally that, “To do it, or not to do it?” is never the question. The trick is learning how to do it mindfully. And without getting burned.
Experimenting keeps us playful.
If I were to hazard a guess about where the desire to experiment comes from, I would have to say it is born of a childlike curiosity. That is, in fact, precisely how I would describe the experience. Just as writing is a means of playing with words, so is experimenting a way of playing with ideas. It is that playfulness that’s so valuable—and that I would never want to lose or to see anyone else lose by not engaging it enough.
It teaches us to grapple with uncertainty.
Before I do anything in the way of testing an idea, I consider all eventualities. What is the range of possible outcomes if I test, say, a new business idea? Can I handle the worst-case scenario? What if I succeed? Am I prepared to make the personal and professional changes associated with succeeding in this new endeavor? Will others be affected, and to what degree? (Might I actually need to talk with them before I take action?) What if I don’t do it? What will the consequences be, then?
Knowing how to brace oneself for uncertainty builds confidence in an array of situations.
Experimenting with an idea can help us see the big picture more clearly.
We can’t understand some concepts fully until we apply them. Intellectualizing simply isn’t enough. For those of us who enjoy thinking beyond the characteristics of a concept to consider how it works, what its limitations are, the terms in which we should be thinking about it, and how it fits together with other ideas in the grander scheme of things, application is vital. One cannot possibly achieve that level of understanding without experience.
It gives us the confidence to trust our own minds.
This is, by far, the greatest lesson I have learned from my tendency to experiment. To trust my own mind. I also think this should be one of the primary goals of any education. Once you stop relying fully on other people to tell you how things work and start trying to figure it out for yourself, you develop greater confidence in your own judgments and intellectual abilities. Being adventurous can go a long way in fostering independent thinking.
Knowing when to experiment and when not to–and how far to take your creative and intellectual escapades–comes only with experience. And with getting yourself in trouble. More than once. That’s where wisdom most often lives, you know. In your mistakes.