Being wrong – or ‘failing’ has to be up there in the top 10 most feared things list with public speaking and spiders.

Kathryn Schulz’s new book Being Wrong describes wrongness as an inescapable part of being alive. We should embrace it but yet people go to such lengths to never be wrong about anything. Being Wrong draws on philosophy and neuroscience to see why fear of wrongness has such a powerful grip, what happens when this conviction is shaken, and how people interpret the moral, political and psychological significance of being wrong. She spoke at the RSA on Monday.

There is a common belief that that right is winning and wrong is losing. Being wrong or ‘failing’ feels horrible and we can go to great lengths to avoid being ‘found out.’ We get attached to theories and even when we have a gut feel that our theory may, just very may, be wrong we ignore anything that disproves it. Paul Sloane describes this phenomenon well in his book How to be a Brilliant Thinker.

We need to break away from our human fear of admitting to being wrong, if Descartes could doubt everything including his own existence, then surely its OK for the likes of you and me to admit we made a mistake.

Usually an admittance of being wrong is immediately followed by a big BUT. We like to explain away our mistakes. On the occasions when you bravely declare “ I am wrong” with no excuse people are shocked. Horrified.

Smart organisations actively reward people for sharing mistakes. Its encouraged. This way mistakes don’t get driven underground. This way mistakes become an important part of learning and improvement.

The fact that we don’t have all the answers is exciting. Being wrong is an essential part of creativity and innovation. We learn from failures and if we combine this learning with our restless search to be right, we have a formula for innovative breakthroughs.

Embrace the wrongness

1. Get committed to being right about wrongness.

2. Be Brave and declare your mistakes.

3. Rejoice in wrongness and then turn a failure into a world-changing breakthrough.

Is it an oxymoron to declare that we have to get better at being wrong?

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