That quote is taken from this 2006 TED talk video, which I highly recommend watching if you haven’t seen it before (or even if you have, for that matter – it’s that good). In it, Sir Robinson offers some observations and insights about the education system, and how we might make it better.
It brought to mind a particular observation about accountants: that we’re used to knowing the right answer, and that people rely on us to be right. It breeds in us a predisposition to shy away from the unknown, to adopt a “wait and see” approach to new ideas, and to not step out unless we’re certain.
“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”
Truth be told, I think we as human beings are uncomfortable being wrong. Nobody likes to flub it, fall on their face, or be seen as clearly off base. As a species, we can be supremely self-conscious. Sir Robinson argues a lot of it is trained into us by how our education system is designed. (Anybody still have a gut reaction to red pen markings?) But whatever the cause, the net result of it all is that we fail to step outside ourselves, and in doing so, we fail to expand who we are, and to reach out and deeply touch those around us.
In a LinkedIn post by Dharmesh Shah entitled, “9 Qualities of Truly Confident People,” he lists #1 as: “They take a stand not because they think they are always right…but because they are not afraid to be wrong.” Part is taking a stand, making a statement, having a conviction, allowing yourself to be moved by some gut feeling. That comes from experiencing things, observing, reflecting, learning.
But “not afraid to be wrong.” How does someone get to be “not afraid to be wrong?” Maybe one step is coming to terms with, and embracing, our imperfection. If we can accept ourselves as who we are, as we are, then we create the space to develop and grow, because we’re not fighting against the emotion of our own self-dislike. Perhaps a second step is to realize that the success or failure of the risk taken, is not a reflection of who we are as a person. Yes, we invest ourselves in what we do, but we are not our work, and if it flops, we should understand that our identity and self-worth remain intact. Let me repeat that: our identity and self-worth remain intact. These two components are part of building resilience: that ability to bounce back, that enables us to keep moving forward. ‘Not being afraid to be wrong’, comes from that deep-down-belief, that whatever may happen good or bad, we’ll be okay.
So what’s this mean for business owners of accounting firms? Well, I think the first is to realize that the title comes with two hats: “business owner” and “accountant.” Those hats contain two different sets of brains, or different mindsets if you will. When we’re doing a tax return or preparing a set of financial statements, we aren’t looking to develop ‘the courage to be wrong.’ (Though I’ve seen some accountants who have taken this approach.) But when we’re talking business strategy, developing new ways to serve our customers, or coordinate our team, let’s put on that other hat: the one housing our other brain, which thoughtfully considers things, but isn’t held back from action by its otherwise normal, healthy accountant-instincts. Being able to recognize and toggle between these two brains depending on the situation can be a powerful tool.
The courage to be wrong leads to the ability to try, which results in the capacity for a different future.
Adrian G. Simmons is a CPA innovating ways to put money in its place. After working as an auditor out of college for KPMG, he joined his father in public practice in 2002, and now acts as the Chief Creative Designer there. With the team, he looks for ways to help their customers become financially strong, so that they can focus on what truly matters in life. Adrian likes tech, uses a fountain pen, successfully attempted a half-marathon (and may try another) , and prefers dark over milk chocolate.