Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, September 29, 2023

Book review: ‘Right Kind of Wrong’ a good choice for managers

Your pencils are all too short. It’s not the pointy end that’s off, it’s the other end, the part that undoes mistakes. Really, is there anybody in the world who runs out of the business end of a pencil before they use up the eraser? Probably not. Even geniuses err, and in “Right Kind of Wrong” by Amy Edmondson, you can work to be like them.

You’ve gone over your paperwork again and again, corrected punctuation and fact-checked the numbers. Imagine how embarrassed you’ll be when an error is spotted.

Or maybe you’ll be nonplussed. Some errors, Edmondson says, are good. They’re “informative, but still undesired,” which makes them “the right kind of wrong” and losing a chance to learn from that is a mistake in itself. We fail. We flail.

To change your perception of failure, first know that when you’ve failed, avoidance, confusion and fear will lead to missed opportunities. Don’t be too hasty in finding and assigning blame for the error, either; sometimes, thinking something is “blameworthy” is “one of the ways we lose access to failure’s lessons.”

Next, start learning by re-framing what happened. Remember that not having the right answer gives you a chance to keep looking for one, which can lead to happy accidents. Keep in mind that “Play is integral to the spirit of intelligent failure.”

Stay curious, but do your homework and pay attention. Know how to befriend the mistakes you make, and learn why shame shouldn’t factor into what you do. Still, don’t treat any failure lightly because some mistakes can be “downright catastrophic,” once you tease them apart.

And if you’re the boss, supervisor, or CEO, give your employees a chance to fail correctly and a safe place to be wrong. Studies suggest that “fear of rejection” is one of the biggest roadblocks to a wonderfully grand whoops.

Every time a new book comes out with a failure-is-good message, you cringe. You’re on board for this whole thing. So how do you get a business-wide buy-in for the idea?

“Right Kind of Wrong” may finally help.

Rather than doing a U-Rah-Rah or encouraging a gloss-over, author Amy Edmondson uses “science” and real-life anecdotal evidence to explain how failures differ between people and situations and how failure might be your best pal. Those illustrative stories are what ground-floor employees will appreciate.

For C-Suiters and managers, the psychology inside this book should give you impetus to make change. Imagine a safe workplace where your employees feel comfortable bringing innovation to the job, and the big wins that could occur. Also imagine your stress level dropping: even knowing how to re-frame a nagging issue could help you find the silver lining inside any dark cloud of oops.

This book may be best for readers in a creative field or those with more leeway at work. It’s a safe recommend for your boss, but at a calm moment. If you’re a CEO or owner, check your schedule, find “Right Kind of Wrong” and pencil it in.

Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of business books are read in more than 260 publications in the U.S. and Canada.