Wrong Answers Sometimes Help

If you are in Grade 2 and get 30 out of 50 on an arithmetic test, did you do badly?  Probably in the teacher’s eyes you did poorly, but what does it mean?

It is possible that you do not know how to add 2-digit numbers.  You can fix that with practice and a little support in knowing what numbers mean.  It is also possible that you know everything that you need to know, but must wait until 3 minutes before the deadline so there is some challenge.  Also possible, you do not wish to demonstrate your skill for others and are internally satisfied with what you know.

Measuring answers does not tell you everything you need to know.

If right and wrong answers mean little, where then should we begin?

Right and wrong answers are contextual, so begin there.  Context is always a set of circumstances and purposes.  What do I want to have happen and what do I have to get it with?  Usually when, and who come up as well.  What limits and conflicts will I find?

No “right” answer is possible without the benefit of context.  A perfect answer to no known problem is wrong.

Context then is about well defined questions that fit the context previously determined.  People must begin the search for answers with better questions.

Peter Drucker supplied wisdom on this point more than 50 years ago.

“The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong questions.”

Errors are to be welcomed not avoided.  It is a mistake to avoid mistakes.  Wrong answers are helpful.  They help define context.  Wrong answers supply information and wisdom.  Wrong answers are a step towards right questions.

The best solutions are not created.  They evolve.

All good, but how do I implement?

  1. Objectively assess your resources
  2. Objectively assess your wants, needs, hopes, fears and expectations
  3. Know timing
  4. Know the risks that can prevent the goal
  5. Know who are your partners in the quest and be sure they are seeking the same things, with the same resources, and the same timing
  6. Find a guide/mentor.  Someone who is familiar with the territory you wish to cover and can help you assess and prioritize the questions you must face.
  7. Keep records
  8. Find a cheerleader.  Planning and implementation are error prone. You can’t fail until you stop trying and most of us need a little help to keep trying.

Most of all, do not expect a string of successes.  No one is that good at anything.  In 2016, Miguel Cabrera will make $31,000,000 playing baseball.  His career batting average is .321.  He fails to get a hit 2 out of 3 times at bat.  That looks like a low success rate but given the context of baseball hitters is very good.

More important.  I’ll bet he learns something every time someone gets him out.  You should acquire that skill too.

Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is now with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.

Contact: don@moneyfyi.com  705-748-5181

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