What if it’s Better to Be Wrong than to Be Right?

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When we do work around innovation and strategy with our clients, at some point the dialogue turns to “ideation” – and people get excited when they believe they have a “good idea.” When that happens I often intervene with an important and unexpected question: What’s the biggest problem with a “good idea?” This is often met with confusion because the whole process is about finding good ideas…isn’t it?  My answer is this: as soon as you have a good idea, you stop listening and exploring and move to defending and justifying.

The same thing happens when you think you know the “truth” or believe you are “right.” We see this dynamic playing out daily in myriad ways – big and small, annoying, and catastrophic – and the result is endless debate leading mostly to discord, divisiveness, and even violence. More than ever its seems we are in a world run by the ego in which we have lost the ability to do anything other than defend our own point of view. And it is clearly not working.

To me, the solution lies in leaders being willing to give up being right, and instead be willing to be wrong. Better yet, to become skilled at being wrong. In moments of dispute, imagine being able to move from defensiveness into curiosity and openness by intentionally asking yourself, “Where could I be wrong? Where are she/he/they right?” This shift is a check-mate for the ego and creates an immediate unlock. The ego only wants to be right, but the mind that runs the ego is like a computer. Ask it different questions and it will quickly find different answers. The answer to “Where am I wrong?” can lead to amazing breakthroughs and sometimes even transformational insights – and also to deep empathy.

These simple practices can help “the egoic mind” open itself up to being wrong…and in doing so, unlock an amazing world of possibility, innovation, and connection:

Appreciate relativity. All things are relative. Every person’s experience of reality is relative to their own past, orientation, history, experience, and preferences. I cannot know what the color purple is until I’m familiar with red or blue. I cannot know what dark blue is if I don’t know what light blue is. This is one of the essential truths about the human experience. We experience things in comparison to other things and each of us has a very different library from which we’re drawing our comparisons.

Embrace “I don’t know.” Believing that you are always right and “know the truth” seems comforting, but it is really quite limiting. As soon as “I know,” then if you disagree with me, by default, “you don’t know.” For many people, agreement equals connection. The egoic mind only wants agreement, which is very problematic for both true connection and learning.  And in truth, if you slow down to look carefully you will notice that “I know” has a weight and a charge to it – where “I don’t know” often feels lighter because it opens the door to listening, to seeing something new.

Always be curious (or ABC). You might associate the acronym “ABC” with the famous Glengarry Glen Ross scene, where the star salesman passionately (and somewhat vehemently) puts forth the premise that to succeed requires that one “always be closing.” And while this might have been a great motto for real estate salesmen in the 1950s, I suggest that “always be curious” might be a better approach to leading in today’s complex landscape. By remaining curious and sitting in questions such as, “What is it like for you?” “Why do you see it that way?” and “What are your experiences?” – you will learn and discover new things about yourself AND others. Curiosity communicates your respect for others and opens up your aperture beyond what the “I know” mind can see and hear.

If we all placed as much emphasis on being willing to be wrong as we did on our need to be right, and replaced certainty with curiosity, then we really could find the common ground of growth and possibility that is so needed now.

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