We all know that we make mistakes. And we often repeat the mantra “to err is human.” Why, then, do we go about life never thinking that we might be wrong?
Well, I tested this concept in one of my classes, and asked my students if they could think about something they were wrong about in the past few years. 85% of my respondents answered yes, pointing out mistakes of inexperience, and of omission. Then I asked “if they could think about something they were wrong about right now. Aside from a few jokes (“Ask my wife!”) a stunning 100% of my students were unable to answer the question. This is how it is to figure out where we err in the present.
This opens up a fascinating question: why is our ability to be wrong and to admit it is only valid in the past? What does this say about our fallibility as well as our ability to be right?
“Being Wrong” as a Doorway to Understanding
It is clear that we like to be right And for a competitive society being wrong spells trouble, social exclusion or simply losing. It is easy to see the difficulties to hold a contrarian approach to being wrong, when our entire society celebrates the victories of visionaries leaders that were never wrong, when the image of failure is often equated to not getting it right.
Yet, embracing our ability to be wrong, embracing it as a a founding character of our human experience holds the key to the treasure of expanding our understanding in a new dimension. Holding the healthy doubt that we might not be right, might very well prove the healthier “statement of faith” in the capabilities of the human race. Why? Becasue it would stop any of the easy attribution that we are quick to make when we disagree with someone.
It is clear that we like to be right. And for a competitive society, being wrong spells trouble, social exclusion or simply losing. It is easy to see the difficulties in holding a contrarian approach to being wrong when our entire society celebrates the victories of visionary leaders, and the image of failure is often equated with not getting it right.
Yet, embracing our ability to be wrong holds the key to the treasure of expanding our understanding of, ironically, success. Holding the healthy doubt that we might not be right, might very well prove the healthier “statement of faith” in the capabilities of the human race. Why? Because the act of stopping the easy and untested attributions (“he doesn’t know what he is talking about!” or “She is not listening to me!”) that we are quick to make when we disagree with someone is the necessary condition for learning something in the process and getting a better overall “picture” of the issue being discussed.
“Wow! How fascinating…May be I am wrong”
We’ve all done it.
When someone disagrees with us we think he doesn’t have access to the same information that we do (attribution of ignorance), or that his brain—f he has the information and still disagrees with us— is truly pea-sized (attribution of stupidity). Worse, if he has the information and the intelligence to analyze it, he has an evil plan to take over the world (attribution of evil).
But try this instead: next time you are faced with a difference of opinions, stop and think “Wow! How fascinating…maybe I’m wrong.” This will open a new awareness that as human beings we see the world as we are, rather than as it is.
And with this in mind exploring how different perspectives shed a light on the complexities of everyday organizational and personal life brings us closer to the understanding of ourselves and of our world. It is the power of breakthrough leadership that helps us face this new understanding.
Adriano understands how to increase your returns on leadership. He works with professionals in world-class organizations that include Philip Morris, Microsoft, the World Bank, Johns Hopkins University, the US Marine Corps, the State Department and NASA. A skilled experiential educator with corporate leadership experience, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of ParticipAction Consulting, Inc., a firm committed to help clients redefine change, collaboration and power in their organizations. He co-authored "Teachable Moments of Leadership" with Jill Hufnagel in 2016, on a learning methodology that gets results by going from PowerPoint to …powerful!