DON’T FEAR BEING MISTAKEN

December 17, 2021

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Most people are too afraid of being wrong. Of course it’s better to be right than wrong, but those aren’t the only options.

I recently discovered Cunningham’s Law, which says that “the fastest way to get the right answer is not to ask a question; it’s to share a wrong answer.” This has me thinking a lot about what makes for great collaboration.

The incredible success of Wikipedia, which is created and curated by volunteers, is a testament to the truth of this law. When people are willing to put their ideas out, other people want to engage and contribute. Even when they’re wrong, the group ends up getting there much faster than if they just asked questions.

Over the years, I have spent a lot of time and energy developing young professionals. It’s one of my favorite parts of being a leader. I have noticed that the ones who worry a lot about saying the wrong thing or making a mistake learn more slowly. The ones who are willing to form an opinion and put it out there are often more successful and fun to work with.

We’ve all heard the old saying that opinions are like rear-ends, everybody has one. It’s not enough to just take a position. I want to see solid reasoning based on facts. If that’s in place, it doesn’t matter much whether they got it right or not. I can understand their assumptions and thought process, to then discuss more intently and share guidance.

Anybody who has ever tried to work through a complex problem with a team has probably encountered the endless loop where people keep asking questions instead of proposing solutions. The best teams are ones that are willing to put up their ideas and let others scrutinize them.

We can see this principle in humanity’s most successful mental approaches. The scientific method relies on a process of reasoned thought, experimental testing, and refinement. Today’s leading technology and product firms embrace a very similar process of rapid prototyping, testing, and refinement.

The world needs builders, not just architects. Our mistaken opinions give us the chance to learn faster, produce better results, and be a part of fantastic teams. And here lies one of the secrets of team collaboration, career development, and leadership. Be humble, be confident, and drop the pride. We’re all wrong a lot more than we’d like to admit, and there’s no shame in that. Hold certain positions lightly and be ready to learn.

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