In The Trenches

I was wrong

Published on April 9, 2017 Back to blog
Child at Science Fair

Last week, I had the pleasure of working with my 9-year old son, Josh, on his science fair project. He built a projector, using a cardboard box, iPad and magnifying glass. Then, we conducted some experiments to determine how the distances between (1) the projector and the wall and (2) the iPad and the magnifying glass would impact the projection. 

Josh’s hypothesis were:

  1. The image would get larger as the projector was moved closer to the wall, and 
  2. The further away the projector was from the wall, the closer the iPad would need to be to the magnifying glass for the image to be in focus.

As I joyfully watched him share his project with others at the fair, I found myself most proud of his unapologetic and matter-of-fact ability to tell everyone who visited the booth that his first hypothesis was wrong, and share what he learned from the experience. 

I wish adults could do the same with such grace.

Why do people (adults in particular) find it so difficult to admit when they are wrong? Of course, it always feels good to be right (just ask my wife – she has this feeling all the time). 😃 However, that doesn’t mean it should feel bad to be wrong.  We can learn just as much – if not more – from being wrong as we can from being right. As Thomas Edison famously said about inventing the light bulb, “I’ve not failed. I’ve just found 1,000 ways that don’t work.” 

So, here are some tips I’ve learned about how to be wrong (which my wife and kids regularly tell me I am good at). 

1. Set yourself up to be wrong – In order to get comfortable with being wrong, you need to first get comfortable recognizing and communicating when that possibility may even exist. Just saying something like “I’m not 100% sure” will get you there. And, there’s nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know.”

2. Be open to learning – One of the most important aspects of being wrong is the ability to listen and understand what may be right. Listen to other perspectives and opinions. Make it an opportunity to learn.

3. Recognize fact vs. opinion – It’s OK (and encouraged) to have an educated guess or opinion. However, while it may be based on experience, research and even touches of brilliance, it is still just that. Unless it is a fact, be prepared (and open) to be proven wrong. 

4. Speak for yourself – What you feel is never wrong (unless you are lying). However, we can never be certain of how others feel unless they tell us. So, rather than debating what others may think about something – and making decisions accordingly – ask them. You generally won’t be wrong with that approach.

5. Accept that there may be more than one right (or wrong) answer – Many things aren’t black and white. There are often many right or wrong answers. Rather than focusing on being right, focus on getting to the right answer together. That way, you can all bask in the glory of being right (or wrong) together.

Admitting that you are (or can be) wrong is a sign of confidence. It can also cause others to be more open to trusting you, sharing ideas with you and being a part of your team. But I could be wrong… What do you think? 

Have a great day!

Jeff Freedman
CEO/Managing Partner
Small Army | Finn Partners

PS.  For the record, I hypothesized that the iPad would need to be further away from the magnifying glass to focus as the projector moved further from the wall. I was wrong (and Josh was right.)