“No one should be ashamed to admit they were wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that they are wiser today than they were yesterday.” – Alexander Pope

Go further. Actively strive to be wrong. Run experiments to learn and grow. Get help from those with different perspectives to see things differently.

This combines learning from Daniel Kahneman on deliberate thinking, Adam Grant on scientific thinking, and Roger Neill on best current thinking.

 

Deliberate Thinking

Kahneman calls intuition “thoughts and preferences that come to mind quickly and without much reflection” versus a more deliberate, controlled, effortful, rule-governed way of thinking. He found that our intuitions are often wrong if we don’t take into account biases like accessibility, framing, and attribution.

 

Scientific Thinking

Similarly, in his book, “Think Again”, Adam Grant values “scientific” thinking to overcome confirmation, desirability and binary biases. He suggests people:

 

  • Preach to protect and promote their sacred ideals, which they know are right.
  • Prosecute to prove others wrong and win the case.
  • Politic to win others over to their way of thinking.
  • Scientifically test hypotheses with experiments to discover new knowledge.

 

 

Best Current Thinking

Neill draws a distinction between selling and joint-problem solving:

  • When you give someone a recommendation or proposal, you’re selling. They’re buying. You’re forcing them into an evaluative, yes/no mode.
  • When you give someone your “best current thinking” on a problem’s solution, you’re inviting them to collaborate with you to build on that thinking and solve the problem together. This sets up what Grant describes as “good fights” – debates with constructive conflict and conscious complexification focused on how, ideas, and not people.

 

Why you might be wrong

 

  1. The information was there, but you didn’t see it.
  2. The information was not there for you to see.
  3. The information was not there for anyone to see.

 

Get others to help you see

Get at the available, but missed information the same way whether your biases kept you from seeing it or it just wasn’t available to you. Get help from people with different perspectives who see things differently or see different things than you do – what Grant calls a “challenge network.”

This is where giving them the psychological safety to disagree and Neill’s joint-problem solving approach are so valuable.

 

  1. Start with a hypothesis/your best current thinking with all your ignorance and biases (me.)
  2. Seek others’ perspectives and new information (you.)
  3. Ratchet up the best current thinking together (we.)

 

This requires confident humility. Even better than being right is the joy of being wrong when a subordinate disagrees with you because that’s one more way to bring out others’ self-confidence and build relationships as depicted in this wonderful Heineken video about opening perspectives.

 

Run experiments and ask questions to uncover new information

At Procter & Gamble we’d run a base media plan in 24 of the 26 markets, double the amount in one market, and run no media in the last market. We knew we were wrong in at least two markets and used the comparative business results to figure out which, adjust our plans as warranted, and start all over.

Separately, for almost two decades we’ve ended every interaction with every PrimeGenesis client with the question “What could make this even more valuable for you?” We’re not asking people to judge what we did. We’re asking them to give us the benefit of their different perspectives and access to information we don’t have to help us ratchet up our best current thinking as conditions change.

Both the Procter & Gamble and PrimeGenesis examples are about systematizing learning – part of reinforcing learning cultures over pure performance cultures.

Implications

Sometimes being wrong is inconsequential and reversible. In those cases, keep going.

In other cases, when being wrong is consequential and irreversible, get help to overcome your blind spots or run experiments to test your hypotheses and create new knowledge.

In any case, actively strive to be wrong sometimes so you can build new relationships, learn, grow, and get wiser.

Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #751) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.

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