After reading yesterday’s post “What is Failure?”, a reader alerted us to the compelling TED talk, “On Being Wrong”  by Katherine Schulz, a”wrongologist”, who studies what it means to make mistakes. Schulz has some interesting ideas about where “feeling right” and “being wrong” intersect; it’s worth listening to whole 10 minute talk to follow the flow. (We’re still mulling the idea that “feeling something is right” is an erroneous notion.)

What’s great about TED talks is that you can read the transcript as you go, or afterwards to revisit ideas. We’ve culled some essential nuggets from Schulz talk:

“…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.

The miracle of your mind isn’t that you can see the world as it is. It’s that you can see the world as it isn’t.

…1,200 years before Descartes said his famous thing about “I think therefore I am,” this guy, St. Augustine, sat down and wrote “Fallor ergo sum” — “I err therefore I am.” Augustine understood that our capacity to screw up, it’s not some kind of embarrassing defect in the human system, something we can eradicate or overcome. It’s totally fundamental to who we are. Because, unlike God, we don’t really know what’s going on out there. And unlike all of the other animals, we are obsessed with trying to figure it out. To me, this obsession is the source and root of all of our productivity and creativity.

…And to me, if you really want to rediscover wonder, you need to step outside of that tiny, terrified space of rightness and look around at each other and look out at the vastness and complexity and mystery of the universe and be able to say, “Wow, I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong.”

The issue of “failure” and “making mistakes” and “being wrong” is a theme that we find running through many conversations these days as people examine their lives, look back at what’s happened and forward, consider new ideas – and risks. It is an ungoing conversation…

We love the question we saw recently 99% (and have been mulling ever since): What was your biggest mistake, and what did you learn from it?

Check out Schulz’s Slate series “The Wrong Stuff,” featuring interviews with high-profile people about how they think and feel about being wrong.

Related posts: ‘self-confidence produces fine results’ (sagmeister’s banana wall)
the desire for safety as enterprise/project stifler
stefan sagmeister on ‘serious failure’ and training the mind
‘harness the power of being an idiot’
j.k. rowling on the fringe benefits of failure

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4 replies on “on the rightness of being wrong via TED

  1. To me, if something feels right and you can see things fall into place , that is like a feeling of arrival . To get to a point in your journey that you have been waiting for – even if that is in itself another starting point . Maybe a feeling of completion .

    Whereas a ‘mistake’ can feel like a crashing halt , a bit discouraging . Yet when you can look at it without judgment and find out what went wrong , there is something precious to learn for your ongoing journey .

  2. PS : isn’t there a difference between the need to be right and the feeling that something is right ?

    That our lives turn out to be different from what we expected simply shows that we cannot know everything . It would only be wrong to expect that we can actually know everything .

    Have a good time ,

  3. My beloved old Tai Chi teacher always used to say this, like a little song:

    “Everybody’s right, everybody’s wrong.
    Nobody’s right, nobody’s wrong.
    Who’s right, who’s wrong?
    Nobody knows.”

  4. the process of inquiry is so rich – all of the questions posed by everyone w/regard to these few posts around “failure”, “mistakes”, “being wrong” cover territory wide and deep – a shared experience, one many of us can relate to and simultaneously affected by the personal lens. what are we reaching for, looking for, inquiring about and why – an experience of “OKness”??? How does one and when does one “feel right” – What is the relevance of “feeling right” in the scheme of things. Self acceptance? Being seen? Deep connection?

    i ask – “what is the relationship of failure to being in the present moment” – for me, when i am moving/deciding/answering from that place of integrity and knowing that is always available, which i call the present moment – that includes being patient enough to wait/trust that it will reveal in its own time – the notion/experience of failing simply does not exist.

    let’s face it, our emotional bodies are very engaged here and they can be quite potent – so, in the end, hopefully, we will all be kind and gentle and open to lean into the humor with regard to ourselves and each other as we dare to enter this territory which is so ALIVE and filled w/unlimited and effortless potential.

    THANK YOU to Sally and everyone for your rich and heart felt wisdom so generously shared and enjoyed at The Improvised Life.

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