Embrace the Inevitability of Being Wrong to Boost Workplace Productivity

Embrace the Inevitability of Being Wrong to Boost Workplace Productivity

We all make mistakes and most of us feel bad about our screw ups, miscalculations, and forays down the wrong rabbit holes. It turns out being wrong some of the time is the price we pay for having powerful cognitive abilities.

Photo by nighthawk7.

Human thought process is driven almost entirely by inductive reasoning. We don't search for the answer or solution that is most absolutely correct in a given situation we search for and provide the answer that has the highest probability of being correct. This leads to us being right most of the time—we're the experts in the animal kingdom at "guessing" with a very high probability of being right—but inevitably leads to us being wrong some of the time. Kathryn Schulz, the author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error is intent on changing the way people view mistakes and embracing that errors are just part of the package when dealing with the brilliance of the human mind.

So how can embracing error help boost workplace productivity? Once you acknowledge that people can't have a perfect record and that mistakes will happen you can start focusing on how to minimize the impact of mistakes and if there are external factors leading to the errors that are made. When you abandon the stance that the mistake-maker is flawed and embrace the stance that mistakes are part of human cognition and everyone will make them, you can focus on productivity instead of scapegoating the mistake makers. Where can we see this mentality in action? She writes:

The aviation industry has turned itself into what is arguably the safest high-stakes industry in the world by cultivating a productive obsession with error. Aviation personnel are encouraged and in some cases even required to report mistakes, because the industry recognizes that a culture of shame doesn't discourage error. It merely discourages people from acknowledging and learning from their mistakes. Cockpits are equipped with multiple backup systems - from copilots to autopilots to automated warnings to emergency checklists - to compensate for the most probable sources of human error. And those mistakes that do occur are exhaustively investigated in an effort to prevent them in the future.

While you may not work in an industry where your "Oops!" moments result in the fiery deaths of hundreds of passengers you can still benefit from adopting a mindset that accepts mistakes will happen and focuses instead of mitigating them and looking at the environment to solve the mistake instead of punishing yourself or others. Check out the full article at the link below for a much longer and fascinating look at Kathryn Shultz's research. Have your own experiences at a company that has adopted a more progressive stance about mistakes and how to mend them? Let's hear about it in the comments.

The Bright Side of Wrong [The Boston Globe]

Send an email to Jason Fitzpatrick, the author of this post, at jason@lifehacker.com.

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