Why Being Wrong Can Be The Best Policy

I think I coined a phrase a couple of years ago: affinity bubbles. idiocydemotivator

(Image clipped from http://www.despair.com/idiocy.html. I love their stuff.)

Affinity bubbles are the cocoons we build to protect us from challenges to our beliefs. They’re confirmation bias on steroids. And search engines and social networks help us build them.

Sure, the sounds of our echo chambers give us the of a mother’s heartbeat to an infant. But what if you’re all wrong?

Realizing You’ve Been Wrong All Along Is Better Than Being Wrong And Denying It

Don Peppers is one of the smartest men alive because he actively challenges his own beliefs.

He recently reviewed a book that discusses the importance of accepting that you might be wrong. The book is Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz.

While there’s much to love about the book, I want to stress one point: you might be wrong. In fact, to some degree, you are wrong about some aspect of everything you believe.

That doesn’t mean we should simply dismiss all of our beliefs. It means we should challenge all of our beliefs. It also means that we can become better advocates for our causes if we spend more time reading and thinking outside of those causes. (I’ve blogged about this before. And here.)

The need to be right can lead us down dangerous alleys. Todd Akin needed to be right about fighting his Senate race to the bitter end. Here's a summary of what goes wrong when he insist on holding  beliefs that conflict with reality:

In situations of high stress, fear or distrust, the hormone and neurotransmitter cortisol floods the brain. Executive functions that help us with advanced thought processes like strategy, trust building, and compassion shut down. And the amygdala, our instinctive brain, takes over. The body makes a chemical choice about how best to protect itself — in this case from the shame and loss of power associated with being wrong — and as a result is unable to regulate its emotions or handle the gaps between expectations and reality. So we default to one of four responses: fight (keep arguing the point), flight (revert to, and hide behind, group consensus), freeze (disengage from the argument by shutting up) or appease (make nice with your adversary by simply agreeing with him).

Each of these ends up in a bad outcome, especially when we finally realize we were wrong all along.

Success depends on finding out we're wrong sooner, before we've staked our claim and fortune and reputation on being right.

Here’s How To Break Out Of Affinity And Strengthen Valid Beliefs

To break out of your affinity bubbles, do this exercise. (It won’t take long.)

1. Make a list of your 5 most important core beliefs that are absolutely, positively certain of.

2. For each of 10 unshakeable beliefs, spend 3 minutes contemplating this question: “What if this isn’t true?”  Think broadly about this. How would the world be different if that one core belief were wrong? What would you have to change about yourself?

3.  Find one intelligent blog, article, research paper, or book that challenges your belief and read it with an open mind.

4. If you find your belief is still valid, circle it in red.  If, however, you are less certain of your belief, keep reading about it.

Make this an annual exercise. It will keep your mind broadening.  And you’ll probably find yourself far more open to ideas beyond your affinity bubbles. The more frightening this exercise seems, the more you need to do it.

If you need some help getting started, write down three specific things you were wrong about. Most of us can start with the 2012 election.

Please write about your experience in the comments.