Monday, May 23, 2011

"Being Wrong" is Fundamental to Being Human

The old adage goes, "we learn best from our mistakes". Or, to be more accurate, we learn best by "realizing we are wrong".

After all, we are wrong all the time! It's not just being wrong about minor factual details, but goes deeper, and includes our entire individual belief structures. Sure, we get that humans are fallible and wrong in the abstract, but when it comes down to ourselves, we live in this "bubble" of rightness. And individuals will go to great lengths to avoid being wrong. This is a problem for us in our personal and professional lives, as well as our culture as a whole. We need to realize that it is acceptable to be wrong.

This is the philosophy discussed by Kathryn Schulz at TED2011, where she analyzes how we mis-understand the signs around us and how we behave when that happens. It is a thoughtful introspective into human nature, and provides insightful lessons to allow us to be more open to "wrongness" which is fundamental to who we are as a species.

"This internal sense of 'rightness' that we all experience so often, is not a reliable guide to what is actually going on in the external world. And when we act like it is, and we stop entertaining the possibility that we could be wrong ... this is a huge practical problem. ... This attachment to our own rightness keeps us from preventing mistakes when we absolutely need to and causes us to treat each other terribly."

We are all out off the ledge, being wrong, all the time. Our minds can see the world as it "isn't". This is fundamental to who we are. Realize, and accept, when you are wrong. Wrongness provides the driving force for our moral, intellectual, and creative advancements as a society.

You may also be interested in her book, Being Wrong.



  1. This very idea was one of the best epiphanies I had from spending two years in MBA school.

    I learned over countless presentations in front of very smart classmates - that I was lucky to be right even 50% of the time.

    So the realization that I was at least 50% wrong all the time was actually quite 'freeing'.

    My ideas, or thoughts, or analysis could be wrong - and I could still be OK.

    Knowing - really knowing - that you are wrong a lot of the time is my most valuable learning from two years of graduate school.