The need always to be right, is wrong

The need to be right is the sign of a vulgar mind. Albert Camus.

Last time I wrote about the need to value expertise, without deferring to it.

This is amongst other things because knowledge is not static and experts disagree, although often off a higher base.

And while I don’t like the way some people use their credentials as weapons to anchor others, knowledge is gold.

Specialists exist in every field; people know more or less about certain topics. Facts have weight.

And yet how frequently we argue without them.

I am not talking about those values so deeply ingrained that we cannot pierce them without also the bone, though they too are worth questioning.

This is about the stuff we say confidently each day, expressing beliefs as truths without regard to sources outside ourselves.

Not only is what we know by necessity limited but also the way we recall or apply it is flawed.

It could be anything from accident rates to football scores, the real (versus perceived) population growth of a country, interest rates, fiscal policy 2000 v 2012.

Sure, what we make of these things may differ, but often disagreements are about the base itself.

“We are living in the most violent times,” we announce. Understandeable that we think this given the news, but even given media bias to reporting conflict; we’re drawing on a limited sample. Strange as it seems as Pinkler shows, these are the most peaceful times in our existence (I was surprised to discover this).

We go hammer and tongs pitting one view against the next without stopping to consider how easily the situation can be resolved: look up the facts.

Interestingly, even that can feel threatening once we attach to a view.

And if it’s just about opinion – give equal space. When someone interrupts what they are implying is that: what I have to say is more important than you. 

Leaders need to manage this consciously, draw out all views.

At best, discussion is about connection and growth. You leave bigger than when you came in – with more knowledge – a different point of view.

But for many it’s a battlefield, the aim: to stop ourselves from being annihilated by annihilating the opposition first.

What drives this?

I think (and this is my view) that many confuse being right, with the right to exist.

We believe that who we are is what we think.

The two become inextricably linked so that when something we say is challenged, we feel personally undermined.

The less secure we are, the more we need external validation and will spend enormous energy trying to bring others to our point of view.

Bullies are a great example, often suffering from low self-esteem and lacking social problem-solving skills, controlling others supplies (temporary) self-belief.

But why do we aim to be right at all? We are wired for imperfection.

Experiments repeatedly show memory is frail and fallible. We see things we don’t remember or remember things we never see.

It’s not even clear why make the decisions that we do (Iyengar, Gilbert).

We misjudge and yet are over-confident in those mis-judgments.

Even the way we think creates biases that range from ambiguity to anchoring, congruence, hindsight, validity, optimism, and outcome and zero-sum, to name but a few.

Knowing this is a freedom. It helps separate who we are from being right and focusses us on getting the best possible information rather than managing frail egos.

For leaders this means:

  1. Actively searching out the highest quality information.
  2. Drawing on different views from the largest possible sample size.
  3. Valuing expertise without deferring.
  4. Being aware of your biases as well as those of your teams.
  5. Recognizing where confident opinion is dressed up as fact and challenging assumptions by asking questions.
  6. Creating a culture where challenge is embraced and the aim is not to be right, but achieve the best possible outcomes.

An Authentic Lifeinsights into creating an authentic life through curiosity, consciousness and creativity.



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