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Dare to be wrong!


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Those who work with me know one of my favorite exhortations:  Dare to be wrong!  Take more chances; be more curious; be the catalyst that helps the team find a better idea. Waiting for the perfect solution is a sure-fire way to become road kill. 

But my exhortation flies into the headwinds of a culture that prizes perfection.   Management gurus exhort us to pursue excellence, to move from good to great.  Even social media demands that we always project the most perfect version of our lives.

My goal for the upcoming year is to spend more time celebrating “better” instead of “perfect.”

I thought about this recently after speaking to a group of college students who are considering a career in marketing communications.  One student sent me a follow up note asking this question: “Has there ever been a time where you had to execute a project that didn’t turn out as successful as you had imagined? If so, how were you able to bounce back from that?”

Packed deep within her question was the assumption that in business, let alone in life, we are expected to succeed every time and that failure is, well, a failure.  My response was simple: you will likely fail more than you will succeed, and that this is part of the process of gaining knowledge and experience, each project, each day, each year.

Getting better is a noble pursuit.  Life is a journey of learning.  So, too, is business.

Practitioners of Design Thinking embrace the principle of rapid prototyping over waiting to build a perfect representation of an idea.  (Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella is working to shift his company’s culture from one of know-it-all to one that values learn-it-all.)

It’s not innovation that sets Silicon Valley apart from other centers of technological development—it’s a willingness to iterate toward an ever better idea.

Sony and Toyota, two marketers I’ve had the good fortune to work with, are dedicated to the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen, which means to “change for the better.”

Digital marketing teams everywhere pursue optimization, which if you think about, is simply Kaizen – learning how to continuously improve the outcomes of our work, then do so again tomorrow and the day after that as well. 

Colin Powell, a retired four-star general and secretary of state, has a rule of thumb about making tough decisions. Every time you face a tough decision you should have no less than 40% and no more than 70% of the information you need.  If you move forward with less than 40% of the information, you’re shooting from the hip.  If you wait until you have 70% of the information, the opportunity will likely pass.  (Increasingly true as markets, customer behaviors, and competitors are changing faster than ever.)

Too many times I see people in meetings who I know have a point of view, yet are afraid to offer it up because they’re not certain their idea is right.  I’ve learned over time that ideas are usually born out of a collision between two seemingly opposing or disparate ideas.  In daring to be wrong – daring to offer up your idea – you serve as a catalyst to help others uncover an even bigger idea as they challenge and build upon your point of view.

So, here’s to 2022.  It doesn’t have to be the best year ever, just a better year.  One in which we celebrate continuous learning and growth.  One in which we dare to be wrong.

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