The psychology of being wrong

WrongPerhaps it is the financial crises or the fact that despite our incredible advances we are realising more and more each day that there are lots of things we do not fully understand (Google ‘scientific consensus‘ or read the Wired Article on the ‘What we don’t know‘) but somehow there seems to be a lot more introspection even, in unlikely places like the business world.

Harvard Professor Rita McGrath has written a couple of articles on the topic, covering Tata’s scheme to incentivise failure and Google’s willingness to get it wrong (a lot). Kathryn Schulz’s TED talk ‘On being wrong‘ sums up the issues very well. It is worth a watch.

The world of strategy if famously littered with ‘wrongness’, some we see immediately and at other times we have to wait a while before we cannot believe how wrong things have gone.

Scenario planning when used as part of the strategy process ensures that as Steward Brand said, rather than being exactly right, we are more importantly, not wrong.

In fact right and wrong is perhaps too simple. Carveth Read in 1898 probably said it best when he said “It is better to be vaguely right than exactly wrong.”

To get to the point of not being wrong we do need to embrace the fact that wrong is an option.

Confirmation bias is the tendency to avoid information which doesn’t suit our worldview. Unless we are able to embrace being wrong (even a little bit) when designing strategies we are not looking at the full picture and are likely to be surprised.

Without introspection and challenging our blindspots we are unlikely to find complete solutions to our strategic thinking challenges.

We often believe more analysis and better information leads to better strategies. This is not the case. Strategic thinking is more dependent on the psychology of the people creating the strategies, and their ability to be both right and wrong in their thinking.

Author: Dale Williams

Dale is based in Cape Town on the southern tip of Africa from where he maintains connections with people all over the world through his portfolio life.