Being right

By Jamie Rowland

Jamie loves helping businesses explore how better leadership capabilities can lead to better results. He is great at listening and asking the objective questions which stimulate new thinking.

The blinkered plough horse in the picture knows what’s what and appears happy for it.

He has his routine from his morning oats and tacking up, then a solid day’s work putting one hoof in front of the other, through to his evening hay and brush down before a good night’s sleep.

And so it is for many of us – some of the time or even all of the time? Bertrand Russell was attributed with saying: ‘most men would rather die than think, many do’. So why is it that we are so addicted to routine, the familiar, and things that we know?

The unknown is scary and we like to believe we’re in control, so we seek to reduce the unknowns. With this rush to know we let many beliefs become facts that stand unchallenged in our minds which then become the pivots of our decision-making processes. Or indeed they may become the blinkers that might narrow our options.

Imagine if everything everyday was brand new – waking up in a place you don’t recognise with a shower with totally alien controls, then having to look for your breakfast, etc, etc (those of you who travel a lot will probably know how all this feels – we do!). It is challenging and uses up energy – much easier to be surrounded by the familiar and let your auto-pilot take the strain. And leave it on for much of the day, or even the week, or more….

Then when we come up against others with opposing ‘knowns’ we know that we are right and they are wrong. If we have a position of power then we can assert this upon them, or maybe exert a little unconscious bias and spend more time in the company of those who echo our beliefs. And so our world gets smaller and new things seem even scarier. Being right is so much easier than accepting Flaubert’s assertion that ‘there is no truth. There is only perception’.

So we could perceive that:

Learning is tiring. Learning requires conscious effort. Learning often involves being wrong. Learning is uncomfortable.


Learning is rewarding. Learning brings you to life. Learning involves whole new experiences. Learning is living and growing.

I know both statements appeal to me, but they appeal in different ways at different times. What I am learning to do is replace the ‘or’ with an ‘and’ and make better decisions about when to challenge and when to accept. I seek comfort from the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald who pointed out that ‘the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function’. Perhaps the bit he is missing is the influence of emotion and circumstance over the mind.

So here are a few questions for some moments of introspection. Our advice would always be to come out of deep reflection with some actions or risk wallowing and nothing changing!

Who do you know who is ‘always right’? What strengths does this bring them? And what limitations?

When does ‘being right’ serve you?

When doesn’t it?

What triggers your state of ‘being right’?

How do you discern between your ‘facts’ and your ‘beliefs’?

How would you like to be?

So what are you going to do?

How are you going to hold yourself accountable?

Finally, remind yourself of why you want to do it.


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