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The Courage to Be Wrong

October 21, 2021

The Courage to Be Wrong

Innovation is more than a word or practice. It includes a unique set of skills and a specific mindset. Paramount of those mindset attributes is the courage to be wrong and it’s blowing apart the way we’ve worked for decades.

Discovering more about an idea prior to pushing it through is a discipline rarely used in modern day work, but the trend is shifting. Since the industrial revolution, the trend is to claim a solution and force it through to implementation rather than humbly explore a hypothesis and learn through a process; a process that may end with the burial of the idea. Hence the frequent resistance.

How did the “push-it-through” mentality become so prominent? We have been taught to seek our badges of honour. Rote memorization and grading in the school system along with the competitive nature of team and individual sports have influenced how we think about problem solving in adulthood, including the workplace.

While there is usefulness in grading and competition, it should not be the primary influencer to problem solving. In fact, in innovation, “push-it-through” must be put on hold to help develop the right mindset.

As before mentioned, the trend is shifting. No longer does, loudest, fastest or even most accurate earn the badge of honour. Now, those who are willing to try and have the humility to embrace failure are becoming the biggest influencers on solutions that often transcend the walls of an organization; often changing our lives.

The good news is, we can all learn it, but it isn’t easy. It’s like developing an unused muscle, it takes time and dedication to gain the strength required to experiment well; and it requires the courage to be wrong.

3 things you can practice to develop the courage to be wrong:

  1. Start with stimulus. You can’t get comfortable being wrong if you haven’t first filled your mind with new information, so try to get out of your usual context. What future trends exist in your problem category? Uncover the opinions of users at different stages within the system. Park your confirmation bias, don’t look for information that proves your theory—try to break it.
  2. View deadlines as freeing rather than confining. For example, “Let’s see what my skill level is when I have to complete this in 1 week.” Flip the challenge to allow you to let go. Often submissions are open to iteration. Embrace the long play.
  3. Find a small problem to experiment on. Come up with a new idea for solutions and see what happens. You can use prototypes, surveys, and quick conversations to test part of a solution before it can do any significant damage. Fail fast and fail cheap.

When we find the courage to be wrong, we can be open to finding different solutions, ones that challenge our typical way of thinking. Doors can open to new ideas that are unique, meaningful, ready to be tested and evolve. With this mindset, individuals, teams, and even entire workplaces can be innovative.

-Ryan Ramsdale

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