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It is better to be wrong, than silent

Wrong!At the center of exploring the future is a permanent need, one that transcends everything else. That is the need to think new thoughts. The one certainty about the future is that things will be different. Because of that, we need to be sure we try out new thinking, even though we are unsure about what could happen. It is better to be wrong than to be silent.

We have to allow ourselves to explore what could happen—since we cannot know what will happen. There is no right answer waiting to be uncovered. That is the nature of foresight.
But it seems hard to just speculate, and that often keeps people from exploring and sharing ideas about the future. Fear of being wrong is probably the biggest obstacle we face in exploring the future.
What can you do about this? First, set a tone that says to your colleagues: “let’s share our ideas, even if they seem ‘out there’. Let’s try out ideas, without fear of judgment or contradiction.”
It’s important to let the ideas flow, at least for a time, and not shoot them each down. You will need to stop those that would say “no,” or “impossible” to interesting ideas. They are stifling an important process in the organization.
Second, you will need to set clear expectations about exploring the future. You need to help your colleagues understand that the future is a range of possibility, and that in exploring the possibilities, we sometimes try out ideas beyond what people may expect or be comfortable with. That has to be ok.
Above all, don’t let people fall silent on you. Help them know and feel that it’s better to be wrong than to be silent.
Image: Gwire, via Flickr, cc license
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{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Garry G November 18, 2008, 5:32 pm

    Solid John… sounds like you are working towards a book…

    Very powerful opening…

    “…exploring the future is a permanent need, one that transcends everything else. That is the need to think new thoughts.”

    If we can just get people to embrace that idea… wow!

    Amazing how many times I say to someone– I help people think about the future- and their face says ‘why would you want to do that….’ which is always followed by ‘how’…

    Think your sentence captures both …


  • Garry G November 18, 2008, 5:55 pm


    I stumbled you!!!!

  • John Mahaffie December 17, 2008, 10:12 am

    My Dad, one of the smartest guys I know, reads ForesightCulture (because I am his son). He doesn’t do blog comments, but told me the other day, he disagreed with me. His take: “keep your damn mouth shut”. That, however, reflects his long career in law, where not saying things is often better than saying things. So in his view, it’s probably “It’s better to be silent, than to make stuff up”. Being wrong in foresight, however, means taking a educated guess (making a forecast, e.g.) and being wrong. It’s not dishonesty, and the penalties should be lighter than telling a lie.

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