Learning to be Wrong

September 14, 2023
Reading Time: 2 minutes
Home 9 +Good Newsletter 9 Learning to be Wrong

One of the marks of the most successful people I know is a willingness to say, “I’m wrong.” Owning up to mistakes—without excuse or fanfare—is not easy, but it’s essential. 

As Adam Grant famously outlined in his book, Think Again, “When we’re in scientist mode, we refuse to let our ideas become ideologies. We don’t start with answers or solutions; we lead with questions and puzzles. We don’t preach from intuition; we teach from evidence. We don’t just have healthy skepticism about other people’s arguments; we dare to disagree with our own arguments. Thinking like a scientist involves more than just reacting with an open mind. It means being actively open-minded. It requires searching for reasons why we might be wrong—not for reasons why we must be right—and revising our views based on what we learn.”

Here at Swell+Good, we’re always trying to be in scientist mode. 

In our client work, it means asking questions, listening to as many voices as possible, and thinking outside the box (or destroying the box completely). We’ve been known to (sometimes begrudgingly) kill projects, ditch platforms, and scrap near-final drafts. 

We think we’re pretty good at what we do, but we know that what makes us even better is that we’re willing to be wrong. 

Last week, for example, we started working on a newsletter about the people who influenced us, highlighting the leaders we follow to level up our marketing and communications game. 

But as we approached our scheduled send on Thursday, we realized that what was meant to be an inspirational (and hopefully helpful) guide to great follows had become a navel-gazing, platform-pushing essay on a pretty homogenous group of thinkers. It wasn’t right. 

So instead of publishing a piece of work that was fine, but left us all feeling a little uneasy, we pulled the plug.

We made the call to send nothing instead of sending the wrong thing—and that was the right decision. 

Later in the book, Grant writes, “When you’re wrong, it’s not something to be depressed about. [Instead] say, ‘Hey, I discovered something!’”

So here we are, saying, “Hey, we discovered something!” Our good idea…wasn’t. We learned, we grew, and we moved on. But we aren’t done yet. Now, we want to learn from you. Our group of influencers left something to be desired, so we’re flipping the script and coming to you for advice instead of giving it. Who should we be following? Whose voices inspire and motivate you? Would you leave a comment their names or handles so that we can diversify and expand our own feeds? 

More broadly, here are a few more questions for you to consider: What’s a habit or program you want to rethink? What isn’t really working for you anymore? Or what is giving you that uneasy feeling that this isn’t exactly right? 

This week, we challenge you to listen to that voice—and be willing to quit the things that aren’t serving you. It won’t be fun, but it will be worth it.

Allison Kooser

Allison is Chief Storyteller at Swell+Good, where she partners with amazing organizations to help them bring their stories to life. She is an avid traveler, an expert takeout orderer, and a big believer in curiosity and kindness. She tries to learn something new every day, and she reads, writes, and paddleboards more than the average human.
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