TED: Kathryn Schulz on being wrong

TED time again. This one is about the need for us, as people, to come to grips with the fact that being wrong is not such a bad thing after all, and how thinking we are always right can have disastrous consequences.

So this is one reason, a structural reason, why we get stuck inside this feeling of rightness. I call this error blindness. Most of the time, we don’t have any kind of internal cue to let us know that we’re wrong about something, until it’s too late. But there’s a second reason that we get stuck inside this feeling as well — and this one is cultural. Think back for a moment to elementary school. You’re sitting there in class, and your teacher is handing back quiz papers, and one of them looks like this…So there you are in grade school, and you know exactly what to think about the kid who got this paper. It’s the dumb kid, the troublemaker, the one who never does his homework. So by the time you are nine years old, you’ve already learned, first of all, that people who get stuff wrong are lazy, irresponsible dimwits – and second of all, that the way to succeed in life is to never make any mistakes.

We learn these really bad lessons really well. And a lot of us – and I suspect, especially a lot of us in this room – deal with them by just becoming perfect little A students, perfectionists, over-achievers. Right, Mr. CFO, astrophysicist, ultra-marathoner? You’re all CFO, astrophysicists, ultra-marathoners, it turns out. Okay, so fine. Except that then we freak out at the possibility that we’ve gotten something wrong. Because according to this,getting something wrong means there’s something wrong with us. So we just insist that we’re right,because it makes us feel smart and responsible and virtuous and safe.

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