Be wrong, Be competent

I’m always happy to see someone come out and admit they were wrong. It must be because this is such a rare bird to see. I’m not talking about your PR flack walking you through damage control. I’m also not talking about having hedged your way six ways to Sunday in whatever it was you said and even that proving to be inadequate. I’m particularly not talking about any of the variations of wrong but not wrong; for example, “I underestimated exactly how stupid they would be”. I’m talking about I said (or did) X on the basis of Y and that has been shown to be wrong.

I recently saw a person that I follow come out with one of those. I read this person because I feel I have learned stuff in an area that I’m not too well versed in but am interested. I was particularly pleased in this case because it reinforces a hypothesis that I have. That hypothesis being that the only folks who come out and admit they are wrong are those who are competent, and possibly to a lessor degree confident. Barring of course the type of shenanigans mentioned above.

My theory rests on the notion that incompetent people can never admit they are wrong. It plays too close to the self perception they already have of being a fraud. When you are already worried about being discovered, you probably aren’t going to hand others fuel for the fire. This implies a certain amount of self awareness in knowing you aren’t competent. What about the people who are truly clueless? That I am less certain about. If you are clueless, believing yourself to be competent when you aren’t, do you admit to being wrong? My suspicion is no but I don’t have a good notion yet for why that would be. That is a possible hole in the theory. Apart from that I think it stands up reasonably well.

I think the confidence piece probably has to do with with having enough belief in yourself that you aren’t that worried about the possible consequences of having been wrong and admitting it. It seems to me you can have a competent person who might not have much faith in their bosses getting the whole wrong thing and for example not being sure they can land another gig. In that case, I don’t think you are going to see someone coming out and admitting they were wrong.

Obviously I’m at risk for confirmation bias here.


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