We grow up with the notion that being wrong is a failure. Even 6 year olds just starting in school, know that being right is what makes you succeed. With that reinforced into all of us, we strive at every instant to be right. To get it right and succeed is life’s only goal for a lot of us.
Now think for a moment what it means for you to be found wrong. What words come to mind if you are asked to imagine what it feels like to be found that you are wrong in whatever it is that you are saying, doing or thinking…
The words that come to mind for most people are frustrated, disappointed, ashamed, sorry etc. A few people even think may be I am right, I can prove I am right, you are wrong etc. There are a few that think may be I am wrong and even fewer think that it’s OK to be wrong.
Why is being wrong that important?
Being right is great. Everyone, of course, like to be right. When you are in the class room and the teacher asks you a question you want to be right. Being wrong is considered by everyone (almost universally) equivalent to looking stupid. In kindergarten, you raise your hand for every question that the teacher asks and there is no fear of failure. However, by the time you are in 2nd or 3rd grade, most students hesitate to raise their hand for fear of being wrong. This continues into our adulthood. As a result we all grow up with a fear of failure and would do anything to avoid situations where we are tested. If we end up in an argument either we remain passive for fear of being found stupid (really wrong) or we argue our point of view till death. I have seen many who even twist the truth just so they can win the argument. Now for a minute, if you feel safe enough to admit you are wrong, you will find that it’s not so terrible after all. It might be an opportunity for you to learn something and also for others to be right.
Above all, if you dare to be wrong, you will take risks. This is the first step towards real innovation. Innovation is defined by Webster dictionary as introduction of something new. For introducing something new requires a lot of creativity and a heck of a lot more risk taking nature – total lack of fear of being wrong.
Take the example of physics, where people thought earth was the center of the universe. Anyone dare to disagree was in serious trouble. Then came along the theory that sun was the center of the universe. That was wrong too. Newton explained gravity and the laws that govern it. Einstein came along and redefined them. But they faced opposition because everyone around them believed what they know is right and the thought that they could be wrong never even crossed their minds. Even if it did, it’s so sacrilegious that the thought was erased immediately.
If only, someone in NASA managers listened to the warnings that of engineer, Roger Boisjoly, and cancelled the 1986 Challenger space shuttle, they would have prevented the worst accidents in the history of NASA’s space program.
In Chernobyl accident was due to an experiment, to test if the coolant pumps would continue to operate due to the residual power when the reactor was not operational, that’s gone bad. There were several things that have gone wrong and the most important causes were human errors – errors of not following standard protocols. The reason for not following was mainly due to the belief that everything that’s being done is right.
If only someone felt that they could be wrong and admitted to not being perfect, disasters could have been averted, lives could have been saved. We, humans are fallible but we go on pretending like we are not. In fact, our ability to make errors and to admit we could be wrong is our strength. This is what results in some of the greatest innovations and discoveries in the world.
Evolution is the greatest innovation we all witness. Without mistakes in cell division, there is no diversity, evolution and life.
There is beauty in the mistakes. Our brains are wired to be not perfect. That’s why fuzzy things nature look more beautiful than the Euclidean geometric objects that humans create. A page with a filled rectangle is not as beautiful as a fractal either random or a space-filling curves like Koch’s curve or Hilbert curve. Fuzzy and fractal things look more beautiful because our brain is a neural network and the connections are fuzzy and fractal. That’s why faults are critical for creativity and innovation.
Next time you have an argument with someone, why don’t you try to see the other person’s point of view and think you may be wrong? A little bit of self-doubt will make you humble and may even save some lives.
A lot of this is covered in this video by Kathryn Schultz, who is an self-proclaimed advocate for “being wrong”. She is very good speaker and is passionate about the subject. More important she is so right.
She also had a book on this subject. I am going to get it and read it. Expect a book review a few months from now. In the mean time, if you want to read this book here is a link.