May 27, 2022
Hexavia Business Club
Book Review Business Career HBC

Why do the smartest people embrace being wrong?

Jeff Bezos, Adam Grant, Ben Franklin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and other notable thinkers employed this mental paradigm.

When our beliefs are questioned, what happens?

When our ideas or views are challenged, we tend to fall into one of three roles, as organizational psychologist Adam Grant describes in his book Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know.

Amazon - Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know: Grant, Adam:  9781984878106: Books

 

The politician
The politician works to persuade people to change their minds and get their acceptance. “Let me explain why I’m correct and you’re incorrect.”

The prosecutor
The prosecutor makes an argument to invalidate others’ ideas and win their case. “Let me show you why I’m correct and you’re incorrect.”

Preacher

To safeguard and promote their principles, the preacher evangelizes their precious beliefs. “I’m correct. You’re mistaken. Period.”

Each of these positions adopts a defensive stance in various ways, preferring pride over humility and conviction above enquiry.
There is, however, a fourth role:

 

The Sceintist: 

In search of the objective truth, the scientist sets aside their personal beliefs. “Let me utilize evidence to convince myself that I am correct.”
Unlike the rest, the scientist’s intellect is open to new ideas as well as the possibility that they are incorrect. Regardless of their preconceived assumptions, scientists seek the truth.

What inspires the politician, prosecutor, preacher, and scientist?

 

Each of these characters is motivated by two things:

  • Misson: What their ultimate goal is in a conflict of ideas.
  • Method: What tools they use to achieve their goal.

The scientist, of course, is the least common of the four. When one’s views are questioned, no one enjoys it. When they are, the most natural reaction is to be defensive.

Why? Because our brains are desperate for us to be correct.

In fact, people often prefer to feel right above being right.

That’s because most of us have two cognitive biases:

  • Confirmation bias: We see what we expect to see.
  • Desirability bias: We see what we want to see.

These biases work together to make us less susceptible to new information or ideas that contradict what we currently believe.

They’re the reason we’re so adamant when confronted with opposing viewpoints. And why do we dig our heels in even when we realize we’re probably wrong?

 

Why you should embrace being wrong

In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin wrote:

“If you wish information and improvement from the knowledge of others and yet at the same time express yourself as firmly fix’d in your present opinions, modest, sensible men, who do not love disputation, will probably leave you undisturbed in the possession of your error.”

To put it another way, if you want to progress, you must first be willing to admit you are mistaken.

We search for clues to assess whether or not someone is trustworthy, competent, or reliable as we meet them in life. The majority of us are on the lookout for affirmative signals: Are they correct in their assumptions? Do they have a lot of expertise about their field? Is it possible for them to reliably forecast future outcomes?

Non-affirmative signals, on the other hand, can be just as useful. Jason Fried, the founder of Basecamp, describes the Amazon founder’s views in a blog post about a conversation with Jeff Bezos:

“He said people who were right a lot of the time were people who often changed their minds. He doesn’t think consistency of thought is a particularly positive trait. It’s perfectly healthy — encouraged, even — to have an idea tomorrow that contradicted your idea today.

He’s observed that the smartest people are constantly revising their understanding, reconsidering a problem they thought they’d already solved. They’re open to new points of view, new information, new ideas, contradictions, and challenges to their own way of thinking.”

 

This isn’t to say that you should aim to be incorrect or make decisions without evidence to back them up. However, as Fried points out:

“You should consider your point of view as temporary.”

This concept appears to go against popular belief that consistency is the key to success. However, two things can be true at the same time. The importance of consistency in effort and execution cannot be overstated. Consistency in thought, on the other hand, is a growth inhibitor. Or, as Ralph Waldo Emerson famously put it:

“Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

Intellecutal humility

To think like a scientist, we must navigate our internal and external worlds with an emphasis on intellectual humility.

“The polar opposite of intellectual arrogance or conceit is intellectual humility. It is similar to open-mindedness in everyday usage. Intellectually humble people can hold strong convictions, but they acknowledge their own fallibility and are willing to be shown incorrect on big and small issues.”

  • Intellectual humility is associated with greater openness, curiosity, ambiguity tolerance, and a lack of dogmatism.
  • Individuals who have a high level of intellectual humility are less certain about their own religious convictions and are less prone to condemn others based on theirs.
  • Intellectually humble people are less likely to accuse politicians of “flip-flopping” when they shift their viewpoints.
  • When presented with strong arguments, intellectual humility is linked to greater openness to persuasion.

What does it take to think like a scientist?

Our goal should be to think like a scientist, resisting the human predisposition toward arrogance and welcoming fresh ideas with open arms.
So, the next time you’re tempted to dig your heels in, remember to think again.

 

Key takeaways: 

  1. When our beliefs are questioned, we act as a prosecutor, politician, preacher, or scientist.
  2. New ideas are resisted by the prosecutor, politician, and preacher. They are welcome to speak with the scientist.
  3. The role we choose is determined by our mission and method. In a conflict of ideas, our mission is to choose between winning and finding truth. Our approach determines whether we attain it through evidence or faith.
  4. Two cognitive biases, confirmation bias and desirability bias, render us instinctively reluctant to confronting knowledge.
  5. Don’t merely search for affirmative signs while assessing others’ skill, intellect, or dependability. Look for ones that aren’t affirmative.
  6. Your point of view should be well-founded, but only for a short time.
  7. Your convictions should be strong but flimsy.
  8. Adopt an intellectual humility mindset.
Eizu Uwaoma
Eizu Uwaoma

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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