The Value of Right

I recently talked about the value of mistakes.

The thesis there is that mistakes are your friend and you should seek them out.

Today is about the value of being right.  This is an easy topic to deal with, because most of the time being right has no value.

The “most of the time” is the problem.  Some things do matter and you need to deal with them as important.  The rest of the time you will find that being right is contextual.

Being right does not matter under at least these conditions:

1) People expect me to be right

A common problem amongst oldest children.  Many of them derive their personal value from the expectations of others.  That seldom works because the “others” do not know enough and do not allocate enough time or resource to actually deciding what is right for you.  Their opinion is usually reactive.  The inevitable, “I expected more of you.” Is particularly destructive.  Never helpful.

It is a trap.  You want to be right so others will see you as right.  Maybe even when you know there is no value to right.  The release is to not consider what others will think.  At that point, “right” is whatever you want it to be.

Dance like no one is watching!  Try Dijon mustard.  Maybe even oysters.  Go sky-diving.

2) It is consistent with others things I have said or done.

Consistency is not a value.  Consider John Maynard Keynes, “When I have new information, I change my mind. What do you do?”

That idea is obvious although not universally followed.

The second is more subtle.

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesman and philosophers and divines.  With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.  He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall.  Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.

‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’

Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood?  Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh.  To be great is to be misunderstood.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson  Self Reliance (1841).

If you must rectify or avoid every tiny inconsistency, you will spend your life on an ever shrinking field of trivia.  Give yourself permission to be inconsistent.  Even eccentric.  That  leads to creativity and that is good.

3) The outcome is readily reversible

It is okay to be “not right” when you can fix it once you know.

One of the principal elements of risk is reversibility.

Some decisions are not reversible and so need to be right.  Like having your first child.  You do not get a 30-day free look and then send it back if it does not work out.  Subsequent children are almost riskless other than the price of raising them.  Your life changed with the first one and the others do not add much in the way of necessary change.

The decision to buy Delicious apples instead of Macintosh or Granny Smiths is not worth considering.  Almost all the decisions we make in a day are unworthy of serious attention.  Certainly not worthy of any angst as you decide.

However, some reversibility is counter intuitive.  The decision to sell your house is riskier than the decision to buy it.  If you buy it and do not like it, you resell it and move on.  If you can afford the price, there is no risk in buying the house.  Same with stocks, lawnmowers, suits, shoes and golf clubs.  Cut your loss and move on.  Learn a little for the future.

When you sell though, you probably will not be able to reverse the decision so it is riskier.  That one is important when elderly parents decide to give up their home or someone decides to sell the family farm or the family business.  The whole family has to be right on those.

4) Being right about one part of a process

Most complex structures, like manufacturing or relationships, have a counter intuitive flaw. You cannot improve the whole process by optimizing any part of it.  All useful, complex structures build on a series of compromises.  If you change an element you change the whole and often in counter-productive ways.

Years ago, one of my clients was dealing with Dick Reese, a younger child in the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup family.  He talked about how his father had retired and his brothers had created an automated line to make the product.  One day his father visited the plant and watched the cup-filling area run.  He asked the operator how fast it was going.  Operator said about 30% of maximum.  Sub-optimal!  Mr. Reese asked how they would change that.  He then turned the control up to 100%.  Seems that the packaging and the raw materials did not speed up at the same time.  Big mess.

You have to decide what the overall optimized process would look like and then set about changing all of the elements and doing so in such a way as to compromise the activity of each.   Add value to the whole even while sub-optimizing the individual parts.

Give yourself permission to be right in new ways or to be wrong in new ways.  Either works.

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