The Joy of Being Wrong

I borrowed the title from Chapter three of a fascinating book written by Adam Grant called Think Again. The title “The Joy of Being Wrong” seems counter-intuitive; however, the book prompted me to think again about the value of being wrong.

When we are growing up, we have an aversion to being wrong and particularly admitting being wrong. Many of us still struggle with accepting that our ideas, beliefs, and opinions may be wrong and open to challenge. Accepting a contrary view or admitting that our position may be incorrect or open to revision is hard for most people to do because it challenges our self-esteem. However, being open to new ideas or contrary opinions is not a sign of weakness but maturity. It is easier to hold on to our convictions than to be subjected to the discomfort of doubt. The world is a better place when we are sure of what’s going on. That is why we tend to surround ourselves with people who agree with us.

Being self-assured and confident robs us of the ability to learn and adapt to new opportunities. Taken to the extreme, as Adam Grant puts it, “arrogance is ignorance plus confidence.” Humility and the ability to accept the views of others does not mean we cannot hold onto opinions that we know to be true. Asking questions and trying to understand the position often will soften the others person’s point of view and may even lead to the discovery of new information not previously considered.

I have always held the view that wisdom did not start with me. Fortunately, my attitude has been the most important success factor in the progression of my career. I was able to take on roles and tackle projects for which I had no previous experience because I was open to new ideas and information with a desire to learn. In my consulting career, helping small to medium-sized businesses in trouble, I never assumed that I had all the answers. Instead, I found that by listening and asking questions, my clients invariably would provide the answers on how to best help them out of their situation. Assuming or pretending I was the smartest person in the room would blind me to valuable insight and possible solutions.

I have found that there are four types of awareness. The first and the worst for enlightenment is the person who doesn’t know that they don’t know. They tend to be arrogant and opinionated and surround themselves with sycophants. Dissenting opinions are rejected, and the dissenters are either punished or ignored. These people make the worst possible leaders. The second type of awareness is the person who knows that they don’t know. This person is open to information, new ideas and is eager to hear the opinions of others. They are also willing to do research to validate information. This type of person is generally well-liked, progresses quickly, and is good leadership material. The third type is the person who knows that they know. This person has evolved from knowing that they don’t know. They have realized that knowing is learning and continue to achieve knowledge through the unbiased acceptance of information. Persons with this trait make exceptional, high-achieving leaders. The fourth is the unconscious learner, a master of wisdom. Few people gain the experience and discipline to understand all sides of a position without bias. They are always seeking the truth. They can accept the opinions of others and seek reasons behind those opinions with understanding and compassion to gain insight. By clearly understanding information biases, they can check what is presented as fact to determine true reality. We know these people as the great thinkers, philosophers, and intellectuals in our history.

Adam Grant encourages up to embrace the joy of being wrong. He goes on to suggest, “When you find out you’ve made a mistake, take it as a sign that you’ve just discovered something new. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself. It helps you focus less on proving yourself – and more on improving yourself.”

Wise words indeed.


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