I'm not going to lie. While wracking my brain for a good "happy" accident in my career that I have created, I struggled to come up with a single idea that would be appropriate, purposeful, and tangible to the discussion everyone else is probably having right now. For this post, I chose not to focus on specific accidents that could or had happened to me, but some thoughts on responsibility and the risk that comes with making a mistake.
I have a strong belief that everyone makes mistakes, and even that we can fix them, repair damage, bear consequences, and learn and grow. I believe we can even turn mistakes into a silver lining, something that points you in a new direction. It's true that unintended consequences can sometimes be good, but they probably aren't only good. I don't really see that kind of "oops, but we'll make it work" accident scenario as something to strive for, but we all know we are human after all. It seems to me that as a party to an accident, there are two different kinds that can drastically change your reaction, and subsequently, the consequences.
1. Accidents that happen while you are free to be wrong
Brainstorming without judgement - thinking in ways that may disrupt the status quo in order to make a discovery, or find that breakthrough idea. This to me is not an accident. It is a purposeful mindset you develop in order to break free of traditional thought patterns, psychological tricks, and find ways to break the norms of logical reasoning. "Accidents" of this nature are another way of convincing ourselves that we aren't creative, when in fact we have all the capabilities of being successfully creative if we are open to them. I believe that part of the fundamental meaning of the term accident is that it usually refers to unforeseen, unplanned, and unfortunate consequences. It's this "painful & unfortunate" part that doesn't seem to apply to this "free to be wrong" scenario. Being allowed to stretch my creativity makes me happy, and solving a problem makes me happy, but causing unfortunate consequences doesn't. It is for this reason that I prefer to think of accidents free of consequences as an exercise that is GOOD for your brain and mental health. This is not, in my opinion, an accident; it's the surprise and process of discovery when you're free to be wrong, and to make mistakes, to put the "unbelonging" together, and to push boundaries. It is chance and failure and success on repeat. When we do this, we let go of the chains that bind our mind, and the result is not a shortcoming, not a failure nor a threat to health, safety, or welfare.
2. Accidents that happen while you're not free to be wrong
When an accident is really a mistake that you're trying to cover, fix, or somehow turn to your advantage. Might just be me, but this is usually a surprise, stressful, and only a "happy accident" after the danger has passed. I think one of the biggest issues I have this with this retrospective lens is that it focuses on the happenstance or chance of the accident, not forcing you to confront what the root issue or cause is, and doesn't give you agency in taking credit for solving a problem. Accidents, while they might be unintentional, are not always able to be dismissed or turned into an advantage. That saying about 'we judge ourselves by our intentions but others by their actions' seems to come to mind here, and I don't think using intention helps you so actually solve an accident in any way. There's always going to be snags or something overlooked on a project and it is how you fix the problem that makes it a success story in the end, not chance.
I think my closing on this topic is that being licensed has shifted my approach on architecture, and most especially client satisfaction, as a factor of how well you can ensure that mistakes are minimized such that risk is also as close to eliminated as possible. Accidents in either scenario can still be innocent, and results can be happy in hindsight.
Giving both kinds of accidents intentionally rational and creative attention are just two different ways to solve a problem.
But responsibility looms and the stewardship you owe (legally the standard of care expected of us by our clients) is forefront more so now than ever.. I'm realizing my aspirations for the greater public for things (like public funding for green spaces, multi-modal transportation, sustainable energies, and reinvestment into our infrastructure) are often large and complex issues. My role in designing civic, public, and school buildings helps many people, and without a doubt can impact the experience of properties and people nearby. Serving the greater public through a career of providing infrastructure is daunting and as far as I'm concerned, deserves the utmost empathy and stewardship. I still wrestle with the responsibility of imposing a new status quo for each project. While finding and fixing mistakes will always be part of the process, I don't believe that causing harm or unfortunate circumstances to arise is the source of my 'happy". I most assuredly believe that assuming your responsibility, understanding consequences of your decisions, and a creative and open mindset will nimbly and successfully minimize consequences and risk. With no consequences that need your minimizing, be free to dream, my dears!
So I leave you with two quotes to consider and to juxtapose in their lens of the world, both of which I love for my experiential categories.
"There are no mistakes, only happy accidents."
Bob Ross, artist & painter
Since human wisdom cannot secure us from accidents, it is the greatest effort of reason to bear them well.
John Paul Jones, American revolutionary naval Captain