Being Big Enough to be Wrong

I watch the occasional TED presentation — if you haven’t done so I recommend it.  Each video lasts about 5-10 minutes and they are typically very conversational in nature as well as thought provoking.  Often the speakers are scientists, authors, athletes — someone who is an expert in their field.

One that I’ve watched a couple of times is by Julia Galef:

She has devoted her professional career to helping people improve their reasoning and decision making.   For Julia, making the best decisions involves being in the right mindset.  In the above video she talks about 2 different mindsets — each one different in how we actually see the world.  Here’s a brief summary of what she’s talking about:

  1. The Soldier Mindset (Motivated Reasoning) – In this mindset, we allow our unconscious motivations (our desires and fears) to shape the way we interpret information presented before us.  We are guided by our desire to be correct — to find information that supports our position — and deny or argue away information that contradicts our beliefs.
  2. The Scout Mindset (Truth Seeking) –  In this mindset, our sole ambition is to want to know what’s truly ‘out there’.  We don’t have an ambition to attack or defend (like a soldier), but instead are interested in getting the most accurate picture of the landscape.  This mindset’s goal is to find the truth even if it’s unpleasant, inconvenient or in complete disagreement with our beliefs.

She tells the true story of the conviction of Alfred Dreyfus, a 19th century French soldier. Alfred Dreyfus was convicted of treason even though the evidence was extremely weak or nonexistent.  The desire for the state to have a conviction permeated the country.  The ‘Soldier Mindset’ was pervasive and overwhelming, even when new evidence clearly pointed to another soldier.

Keeping an Open Mind is What Makes Good Leaders Better

We may think that we’re being objective and fair in our thinking and analysis — but are we truly open to hearing new information?  Could we actually still have a Soldier’s Mindset and unconsciously disallow contradictory information?  Having that ‘open mind’ in leadership is important.  Critical?  YES.  Always easy to do?  NO.  I think it takes a lot more energy to be open to opposing ideas than it is to simply discredit them from the outset.

Reminding ourselves to be open to legitimate evidence that goes against our beliefs and understandings is how we get better at stuff.  And getting better at education is our goal.

Everyone once believed that the world was flat even when there was contradictory evidence

dog look out

The Scout Mindset – Always Looking for the Truth

When I read an article, hear a debate, watch a news report — I need to remind myself to be open to the possibility that I might be wrong in my current understanding.  It’s actually difficult some times for me — I like being correct.  Being correct makes me think that I actually know some stuff.

We become defensive in our positions because we’re worried about:

  • being wrong;
  • being wrong and having to admit it;
  • being wrong, having to admit it and believing that being wrong shows some kind of weakness.

Let’s be big enough to know that we can’t know everything, that we can learn from others and that facts actually have a greater importance than our egos

But please don’t waste my time telling me that we didn’t land on the moon, the earth is flat or that Star Wars isn’t the greatest movie series EVER.  I know I’m right on those three points for sure.



4 thoughts on “Being Big Enough to be Wrong

  1. Great blog post and will definitely be checking out her talk. The irony is that leaders who can be vulnerable enough to admit to making a mistake are always the most respected and admired. It also creates a foundation for trust and accountability that is fundamental to all good relationships.


    • Thanks for your comments, Diana. I agree with what you’ve said. When I think of the leaders I most respect, it is probably because they have an ability to be humble, honest and able to admit their mistakes.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s