Being Wrong

One of the biggest mistakes that I see people make is being focused on being right, rather than trying their hardest to achieve their goal. I believe the main reason that many people are so focused on being right is that if they are not right, then what are they? In most cases, they would be wrong. Saying that you are wrong in any situation sounds like you have not been able to produce the required results; you have failed at achieving something. However, failure and being wrong are two different things — they are treated almost the same though. The people who are focused more on being right than being their most productive self end up focusing more on proving everyone else wrong rather than working toward their goal. This is an inefficient use of our time — our time is better spent working than proving others wrong.

This is a natural effect, after all. We don’t want to be wrong because if we are wrong, there is most likely someone who is right. In the workplace, the person who is right ends up being commended — to varying degrees — by the team and management, whereas the person who is wrong does not get that praise. Many people then — naturally — assume that the people who were wrong were not as valuable to the team because they did not have the right solution to a problem. This leads to us becoming too focused on being right, which is the wrong thing to focus on. We should focus on being our best selves — creating value for others and working toward our goals — rather than trying to prove that our solution is the best.

There are a few problems with our cultural avoidance of being wrong. The first, and perhaps most important, is that being wrong is not a bad thing. This is contrary to public belief, where being wrong is seen by many as not being right. The truth is that a right answer or solution to a problem is only discovered after thinking about — or even pursuing — various different incorrect paths. The reason for this is that without thinking about paths that are wrong, then we will never know which path is the best. Therefore, being wrong is actually a prerequisite for being right. We need to consider all of the potential things that may work before arriving at a solution; there is no immediate right answer in most cases. Being wrong is a great way to learn about what does not work, and that information can provide a good path to discovering what does work.

Indeed, being wrong also allows us to become more aware of the world. By pursuing different paths, we are able to gain more comprehension over the problem. We can analyze specific intricacies which otherwise may not have been considered due to their not being obvious. If we spend time thinking about all of the available paths, we are bound to be wrong at least once, but it allows us to better understand what we need to do to arrive at a solution. The time we spend pursuing dead-ends and incorrect paths also makes it easier for us to navigate our way toward the correct path in the future — we have already been down a path before, so we know when to stop pursuing it before we reach the dead-end that we have experienced before.

All successful people have one thing in common — they have been wrong. More specifically, they have not cared about being wrong and are playing a different game than everyone else. This is because they understand that being wrong is a natural part of getting ahead — if you are not wrong at least once, you are not learning enough. You need to pursue — or at least consider — every path available to you, and then choose the best one when you have all of the necessary information. Successful people are focused on working toward producing the best outcome, not being right in every situation. If they spent their time trying to prove everyone else wrong, then they would have less time and energy to invest in their projects. They would become more easily distracted; their work would not be representative of the results of their full effort.

Indeed, the most successful people have internalized one fact — in order to be successful, you need to be willing to look very wrong for at least a short period of time. Why? Most people who are successful are actually right, but the world hasn’t caught up with them yet. Take Airbnb, for example. When Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, the co-founders of Airbnb, said that you could share your house with a stranger when you were out of town or on vacation, do you think the world immediately thought they were right? Many people thought the idea was outlandish. Chesky and Gebbia were focused not on proving everyone else wrong, but rather building the best product possible. They knew that if they developed a great product, then people would eventually come around to their way of thinking — and many people did in the end. Airbnb is now worth over $35 billion — the founders knew they were onto something, but the world thought they were so wrong. Had they have spent all of their time advocating for their model and trying to prove everyone else wrong, they would likely have never reached that valuation.

When I start a new essay, I often spend a lot of time planning out what I want to say. When I am actually writing the essay, however, my plans change; I adapt my main points, remove some which I don’t think fit in with the overall flow of the writing, and add new points. I pursue a few different incorrect paths and delete paragraphs and sentences that don’t work. This allows me to gain more insight into the subject I am writing about, and ensure that my essay flows as well as possible. Sometimes I go down the wrong path and start over. The same thing applies in projects, and even companies. But, I only need to be right once — and so do founders and builders — in order to be successful. I don’t care about being wrong. I only care about being right once, and trying my hardest to produce the best outcome possible.

Don’t worry about being right all the time. Be wrong. Explore every path.