Friday, June 11, 2010

Being Wrong

I hereby interrupt the regularly scheduled but potentially yawn-inducing series on Peak Oil to talk about wrongness.

Oh, I hate being wrong. Even when it's the best learning experience ever. Which it usually is. Yeah, shut up, I know I'm wrong to hate it (oh, the irony), okay? I also don't like constructive criticism, so nyah nyah. At least I am willing to admit it. I know I'm supposed to respect and appreciate the opportunity to grow and improve (and eventually I do), but often I just want to stick out my tongue and go 'thhhppppt'.

It's a mature day for me, what can I say?

Ira Glass, who is totally cool, did an interview with Slate on being wrong and how being not so good at things or wrong about things can actually make someone good at things. It's a brilliant interview of a brilliant guy. I was blown away by some of his statements. Two in particular stuck out.

"I had this experience a couple of years ago where I got to sit in on the editorial meeting at theOnion. Every Monday they have to come up with like 17 or 18 headlines, and to do that, they generate 600 headlines per week. I feel like that's why it's good: because they are willing to be wrong 583 times to be right 17"

It's sort of like the stats on Ty Cobb. One of the greatest ball players ever. Lifetime average (I know I've mentioned this one before) was .367.

If Ty could only get it right 1/3 of the time, what about the rest of us mere mortals? Most of us don't have a good batting average. I try to remember this when attempting to generate leads within my consulting firm. I'd like to hit it out of the park just once, but if I have to open 34.29 doors to be able to walk through 1 (583/17 = 34.29), it does help to know that.

More from the same interview:

That's amazing. I'm trying to work out the fraction in my headlike, how wrong do you have to be to finally be right?

"It kind of gives you hope. If you do creative work, there's a sense that inspiration is this fairy dust that gets dropped on you, when in fact you can just manufacture inspiration through sheer brute force. You can simply produce enough material that the thing will arrive that seems inspired."

This is pretty much the same conclusion Malcolm Gladwell comes to in Outliers. It's practice, repetition and hours 'in the saddle' that create mastery, not just talent or inspirational fairy dust.

So what does being wrong have to do with money? I mean, this is Ms. MoneyPenny's blog after all, and when I'm not flirting with James Bond at MI6 (wait, wrong MoneyPenny...) er, I write about money related topics.

Most of our money assumptions are wrong. Wrongity-wrong wrong. Mine too (yeah, yeah, thhpppt). You know what they say about assuming, right? Well, it's true. We all grow up and live with certain ideas about life and money that we'll defend like it's the last stick of beef jerky on the planet. Actually, you can have the last stick of beef jerky, just leave me the last box of Laffy Taffy, but that's besides the point.

No, I'm not going to give you a list of all the things you might be wrong about. Or that I know I'm wrong about. I'm simply going to tell you this. Ty Cobb got it right 1/3 of the time. The staff of The Onion are right about 3.5% of the time. And they are damn funny.

So if they are the average, that means most of us are right about 3.5% of the time. So the next time you are having a discussion with your spouse or another person about whether you need yet another garden hose reel, or some other important financial matter, remember this. You are probably going to be wrong.

But so are they, so it's all good.

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