The Importance of Being Wrong (and Being Willing to Admit It)

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”
~ Sir Ken Robinson

Change, especially the type of transformational change we’re talking about to personalize learning for all students, is hard, scary and can sometimes seem overwhelming.  One of the main reasons for this ties into fears that most of us have – whether we admit it or not – the fear of the unknown and the fear of being wrong.

We’ve recently come across several resources that address this issue, albeit in slightly different ways. The first was this TedTalk video by self-proclaimed “Wrongologist” Kathyrn Schulz. Ms. Schulz posits that we all agree in the abstract that nobody’s perfect and everyone makes mistakes, but in the here-and-now, in our own reality, we all struggle with admitting that we’re actually wrong about anything. One of the main reasons for this is our society – from an early age, our culture teaches us that getting something wrong means there’s something wrong with us. This leads us to make less than favorable assumptions about others who might have opinions and ideas that are different than ours.  The value in understanding this mind-set and embracing our “wrongness” is that it opens us up to new possibilities and helps us to re-group when, as Schulz says, “we think this one thing was going to happen, and something else happened instead.”

Another resource was this post by Shaun Spearman on John Kotter’s blog in Forbes.com. Some of you may be familiar with Kotter as the author of the 8-Step Process for Leading Change. In the post, Mr. Spearman discusses the “mastery of the flip-flop” and how in the political arena it’s usually portrayed negatively. However, in reality, as events unfold and new opportunities or challenges are revealed, the success of organizations relies on the ability to recognize and adapt to change, and sometimes that means being willing to admit we were wrong. Spearman states that when circumstances deem it necessary, a leader’s job is to change course, but the key is to include staff in the rationale behind the change. He goes on to list three themes found in leaders that “embrace their inner flip-flopper” in responding to change:

  1. Avoid the “Change Sneak Attack”
  2. Setting Context is Everything
  3. Seek Urgency BEFORE Proceeding

This post by Adam Renfro in the Getting Smart blog discusses using the Google 20% rule in schools and districts to foster an atmosphere of creativity and innovation. Developing this type of atmosphere is driven by the leadership at the school or district. Renfro says:

Innovation, creation, and production all require long incubation periods. If you want to do this in your district, you need to give it time, allow room for failure, celebrate the good ideas, and implement the plans whenever possible. Tech or curriculum’s first response shouldn’t be “it can’t be done.” It should be a priority for departments to help innovate. If you’re restricted by regulations, see which ones are state level and which ones are district or school level. See how you can rework the local ones to open up innovation.

Finally, we have been exploring the trapeze metaphor as described in this post from The Essene Book of Days by Danaan Parry. The post starts out:

Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings. I’m either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I’m hurtling across space in between trapeze bars.

Many of the districts involved in the Personalized Learning Initiative are either already in that “void” between trapeze bars or approaching it. They know that to truly transform learning, to get learning right for all their students, they’re going to need to let go in order to move forward. That in-between time, when we’ve let go of the old bar, but haven’t yet grabbed the new one can be a terrifying place, but it is also the only place where real, transformative change can take place.

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One comment

  1. Debbie Wells

    Yes! The discontinuous gap that occurs in systems change is unsettling, but is the place where we have transformative potential. The potential of being wrong is that we trapeze-swing into better and more “right” responses.

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