Off-Grid Living – Where To Start – Episode 4 - Experimenting

By Howard Lewis. In his 2006 TED-Talk, which is still one of the most frequently viewed of all time, the late Sir Ken Robinson tells a wonderful story. A little girl is sitting quietly at the back of her classroom concentrating on a picture she’s drawing.

The teacher walks over to her and asks, “What are you drawing?”

The little girl replies, “I’m drawing a picture of God.”

The teaches responds, “But no-one knows what God looks like.”

And the little girl answers, “They will in a minute.”

Sir Ken’s point was that kids will have a go and are not afraid to be creative and to get things wrong. The little girl had no fear in expressing her version of God and no expectation that she’d be criticised for it.

It’s during our school years that we’re taught that getting things right is the best way, and getting things wrong is, well, wrong. Everywhere we look people are critical of failure, and that stifles our creativity. Sir Ken’s assertion was that in order to get us through the system, schools are responsible for systematically eroding creativity and stigmatising mistakes. In its place is learning facts and figures. Our school exams, the very things that point us towards our careers, are based on getting things right first time, in that moment. Our future livelihoods may depend on it.

Ironically, it’s often people who were terrible students at school who turn out to be the innovators; it makes you wonder whether it’s because they never allowed the creativity to be knocked out of them.

Watch a child learning to ride a bike. They don’t throw the bike away the first, second and third time they fall off. They get back on it and try again and again, until they’ve mastered it. They get it wrong until they get it right.

Getting things wrong is at the very heart of how things come right. Life would be very different by now if in 1928 Alexander Fleming hadn’t been toying around in his lab, trying a few things before Penicillin crept over the side of his petri dish. He failed many times before making such an important discovery, which in turn has saved so many lives.

It means that experimentation is vital if we want to make progress. And with experimentation comes failure. Failure is a prelude to more failure and yet more after that, but if you believe in what you’re doing then it’s just one step closer to a successful outcome. You could say it’s the people who persevere through these challenges that make the most out of life.

“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” said Nelson Mandela.

And so it is with sustainable living.

When you and your family are trying to live more sustainably there are no right or wrong answers, because everything is new. You are now a pioneer, and pioneers get it wrong, same as the rest of us. You are searching for a particular outcome and it’s only by trial and error that you might get there.

So it’s right to try, it’s acceptable to fail and it’s important to try again. As we navigate through these changing times and try to live more sustainably, please experiment. One day you will get it right and you’ll save the planet.

As J.K. Rowling said, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

The Green Gorillas run workshops in tiny house building and sustainable living. Find out more at

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