We see it happen in working groups all the time. A new idea gets suggested – whether it’s playfully put out or seriously proposed – and someone in the group, often a senior person with some status or authority, shoots it down. Fairly typical phrases are used to do this: That’ll never work. We’ve tried it before. We’ll never get that approved. It’s just not possible.
But hasn’t just about every major or radical innovation been about doing the very thing that couldn’t be done before? You’ve heard the examples: how Thomas Edison got it wrong 10,000 times before he got the light bulb right. Or how Richard Branson‘s been wrong as much as he’s been right, but that risk-taking is what makes him such a notorious and successful entrepreneur.
Still there you are in some meeting, ostensibly about cultivating novel solutions to a chronic problem and the standard assumptions are upheld – sometimes even defended – usually by the person who thinks they know better. The person who needs to be right, gets to be right – but often at the expense of novel ideas and potential innovation.
What if that same person could suspend judgment for a moment? What if, even though he thought he was probably right, he was willing to entertain, temporarily, the possibility of being wrong? Could she call a time-out on certitude, and whimsically toy with the idea that her long-standing premise about what’s right or wrong might be incorrect?
What happens if we play a little game of “What if?” with the things we believe to be true, or to be right?
We might find another solution, a brand new one that comes from deferring judgment. Or if not, at least we’ve demonstrated to the people around us that we’re open to seeing old things through new eyes and testing our assumptions. There’s huge power and possibility in the willingness to be wrong. The power to build trust with colleagues and the possibility to blow through the (perceived) barriers that are limiting. Innovation isn’t about being right, it’s about risking that we might be wrong, and finding out where those unlikely and impossible solutions might take us.
Know further: More epic fails of Thomas Edison. Others muse on the need to be right and on being wrong. Read about 10 inventions that resulted from mistakes and 101 gadgets that came to life because someone was willing to be wrong (or sure they were right).