A Meditation on Being Wrong

I, and the people with whom I work, have to deal with being wrong on a daily basis. I interview people, showing them advertising ideas, new product concepts, packaging etc. that their creators are certain (or pretty sure) the consumers will like. Or love. And sometimes, they don’t like it. Or they don’t get it. And then all those who invested in developing the ads, products, concepts, ideas are left with a problem to address: was I that wrong? Or are the consumers wrong in their opinion (they really do like it, if only they had a chance to see it in a different way…)?

And there I am, asking questions and probing people to get at what they really think and feel. But maybe I’m not asking the right questions. Or maybe  I’m not listening to their responses clearly enough.

And then I have to write a report, summarizing what I have found. What if I’m wrong? What if I’m missing something, and in so doing cause my clients to go down a wrong path and make wrong decisions?

Fortunately, I (and my clients) don’t suffer from this kind of worry very often. We couldn’t do our jobs well if we did. Having confidence in your skills, listening and thinking ability is crucial. And to be clear, I do have confidence, and I do believe I do the right things, ask the right questions, and come up with the right findings.

However, every now and then, I think it’s important to remind ourselves of what it takes to be really thoughtful, which includes dealing with our aversion to being wrong. I was reminded of this today, reading Brain Pickings.  There’s a nice piece about the psychology of being wrong. And I do think it’s important for us all to think about being wrong as we go about our days being right, and more right, and most right.

Brain Pickings introduced me to Phillipa Perry’s book How to Stay Sane. One of the quotes from the book was the impetus for this post.

We all like to think we keep an open mind and can change our opinions in the light of new evidence, but most of us seem to be geared to making up our minds very quickly. Then we process further evidence not with an open mind but with a filter, only acknowledging the evidence that backs up our original impression. It is too easy for us to fall into the trap of believing that being right is more important than being open to what might be.

If we practice detachment from our thoughts we learn to observe them as though we are taking a bird’s eye view of our own thinking. When we do this, we might find that our thinking belongs to an older, and different, story to the one we are now living.

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