The Importance of Mistakes

Kurt Andersen, host of Studio 360 on NPR, is a journalist and the author of the novels Hey Day, Turn of the Century, and The Real Thing. He has written and produced prime-time network television programs and pilots for NBC and ABC, and co-authored Loose Lips, an off-Broadway theatrical revue that had long runs in New York and Los Angeles. He is a regular columnist for New York Magazine, and contributes frequently to Vanity Fair. He is also a founder of Very Short List. 

Andersen began his career in journalism at NBC's Today program and at Time, where he was an award-winning writer on politics and criminal justice and for eight years the magazine's architecture and design critic. Returning to Time in 1993 as editor-at-large, he wrote a weekly column on culture. And from 1996 through 1999 he was a staff writer and columnist for The New Yorker. He was a co-founder of, editorial director of Colors magazine, and editor-in-chief of both New York and Spy magazines, the latter of which he also co-founded.

From 2004 through 2008 he wrote a column called "The Imperial  City" for New York (one of which is included in The Best American Magazine Writing 2008).  In 2008 Forbes. com named him one of The 25 Most Influential Liberals in the U.S. Media.Anderson graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College, and is a member of the boards of trustees of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the Pratt Institute, and is currently Visionary in Residence at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. He lives with his family in New York City.

  • Transcript


Question: What’s the biggest mistake of your career?

Kurt Andersen: I've never made a mistake in my career. Geez. I really do tend -- I have made lots and lots of mistakes but I tend to erase them from my mind. You know, every day I make a mistake, as I try to write a piece of fiction or as I try to write a story. In a larger sense, I make mistakes thinking, "Oh, I've done this kind of thing; therefore, of course, I can do this roughly similar, adjacent thing." It's the mistakes of hubris, I suppose. But to my mind it's better to make those mistakes and say, "No, maybe I can't tap dance even though I can tell jokes." It's better to make those mistakes, in the attempt to live the Amateur Spirit if you will, than to stick in one’s little silo where one has proven oneself. I think the errors of hackdome are more dangerous than the errors of over reach, and I've over reached. I will grant that.

Recorded on: October 13, 2009