I’m a big quote guy… historic quotes are often nuggets of gold that summarizes an entire lifetime of wisdom into a handful of points and sentences. I have read lots and lots of quotes over the years and have adopted a few into my own thoughts… it’s great to pull out a quote right when you need it.
Seldom have I had a quote that has so dramatically affected my thinking patterns… About three months ago, I was browsing a list of quotes to inspire an end to a meeting when I came across one that has since presented itself nearly daily to me.
“It is far better to be wrong than to be vague.” – Freeman Dyson
This led me back to ……
“If you want to succeed, double your failure rate” - Thomas Watson
And then my own modification of
“Be willing to be wrong” – John E. Smith
There are two distinct points I would like to get across here. The first is that being wrong in most cases is OK. There are even times when being wrong or failing is actually a success. The second point is how horrible bad vague is.
Most of us, over 60% of the people in the U.S. work in a creative and knowledge based career, where a mistake can be corrected relatively quickly… minutes, hours or days. I’m not talking about things like pharmaceuticals or automotive safety, but just about anything in the electronics age like software and digital marketing.
When I look back at my own personal learning’s… I am betting most people fall in this same category, I have learned a great deal more (a great, great deal more) from my failures than my successes.
Even if you look at some of the biggest mistakes (failures) in history… they were painful, but in most cases were eventually over come. How about the ideas of New Coke, Netflix Qwikster or Facebook open profiles. All of these companies made mistake that sent predictors into frenzies of Chicken Little the sky is falling proclamations. In each case the organization was able to manage, correct and in the long run grow stronger from these mistakes. And this is exactly my point.
We need to not fear mistakes sooo badly, but create a culture where being wrong or making mistakes or even failing is turned into a growth opportunity and where fast reaction is rewarded over the illusion of possible perfect execution.
Being vague is one of the biggest de-meaning, de-moralizing and de-motivating behaviors. It is utterly paralyzing and leads to nothing but wasted energy and self doubt. Vague not only results in little to no action and progress, but adds a sense of confusion to leadership beyond not knowing the answer but a lack of commitment, communication and self awareness.
Be careful here… vague is not a limit in knowledge or experience, but a behavior of action and communication directly resulting from cultural dogma and fear of being wrong and the ramification of being so. Saying “I don’t know” is not vague, saying “I’ll let you know” without timely follow up is! Avoid being vague whenever possible especially in leadership situations.
Bringing it all together… most of this will completely fail in the wrong environments and that’s why we are in this mess. If your culture berates people for being wrong and focuses on completely avoiding mistakes… you are missing out on speed and many growth opportunities and your competition will eventually pass you by. On the other hand, if you build a culture where mistakes are considered growth opportunities and focuses on reacting fast, not only will you have a stronger organization but you’ll be seen as having great leadership as well.