The Library of Mistakes

Quite a few years ago, I remember coming up with an idea for a new conference. It would be one that celebrated failures – specifically in business, but I thought it could be expanded to cover multiple areas of both work and just life in general.

It started as an idea around entrepreneurship , where learning not to repeat the mistakes made by those that got there before you can be the difference between a highly stressful period of being not-dead (the realistic best-case scenario for an early stage business) and simply sinking beneath the surface, never to be seen again. The whole point of such an event was, in fact, that you would be seen again. Or at least heard from.

Like many ideas, it never came to fruition. At least not from me. Plenty of other people have since had the same idea – which proves that other great truth of entrepreneurship: ideas are irrelevant. It’s all about execution. So now you’ll know why that well-known novelist didn’t bite off your hand when presented with your kind offer to supply her with an amazing story idea you had in return for which you’ll accept a very equitable 50/50 share of the profits….

So you can probably imagine then that I’m a big fan of the Library of Mistakes in Edinburgh. It’s a niche library set up in the aftermath of the financial crash which has the goal of collecting all the material possible about the financial system and how it has failed in the past.

It has a great motto as well: mundum mutatu errore singillatim – which as I’m sure you’ve already guessed means ‘changing the world one mistake at a time’.

I’m a big believer that the financial system today is too complex for anyone to understand. And anyone who claims that they do – from economists, to central bankers, to politicians – whoever – is either lying or (even worse) doesn’t realise the limits of their knowledge. But however impossible it might be to understand how the financial system will evolve and react in the future to certain actions, it can’t hurt to be constantly reminded of just how many times in the past people thought they’d understood the system – before going on to in fact prove (mostly with other people’s money) that they didn’t.