March 16, 2017

It's Right To Be Wrong

If you were discouraged about being wrong all day yesterday (see this if you didn’t know you were wrong all day yesterday,) I have fantastic news! Today is Everything You Do is Right Day. No more second-guessing yourself or feeling insecure. Today is YOUR day to do everything right ― even if you’re totally wrong. If you’re a designer, this is just another day for you so carry on as usual.


Perhaps you don’t second-guess yourself. Could that be because you always play it safe so there is no reason to worry about being wrong? If you’re anything like me, that is not the case. I’m wrong a lot.


A. Lot.


It’s kind of a work requirement in the design community, so I suppose I’m lucky to be in a field that embraces being wrong and encourages failure. Well, perhaps failure is too strong of a word. It sounds so final. If you try but fail and continue on then you haven’t actually failed at all. You’ve encountered a setback. And each setback has a lesson attached to it that ultimately leads to finding the best solution and ― voila! ― success!


“This is one of the most important lessons of the scientific method: if you cannot fail, you cannot learn.” ― Eric Ries, The Lean Startup


It looks so simple in black and white letterforms lined up neatly across this page but, in reality, those setbacks can be incredibly frustrating. There are plenty of stereotypes about designers (most of them are unfair misunderstandings) but the one that rings true ― that is one of the most critical qualities that all good designers share and is required for a long career ― is thick skin. And the building blocks of thick skin are the lessons learned from being wrong.


Being wrong is so indispensable to the career of the designer that it’s actually been built into the design process. We expect to be told “no”, so much so in fact that if when an idea is rejected we’ve already prepared 10-20 (or 100) more waiting for review. There are few other professions where an employer brings an employee a problem to solve and the employee comes back a few days later with 20 workable solutions knowing full well that at least 17 will be rejected. And of the three that aren’t rejected, they’ll be reworked again and again and again until two or three excellent options are available for the client to choose from ― two of them ultimately being trashed.


That’s a lot of wrong answers.


Of course being wrong at the wrong time can be very expensive, but always playing it safe for fear of making a mistake could end up costing even more. But wait, isn’t being wrong a sign of stupidity? Not when it’s part of a process that ultimately leads to learning and solving a real problem. When you play it safe, however, you learn nothing. And when you learn nothing you don’t change. And when you (or your business) don’t change you don’t grow. Therefore, safety leads to business growth about as much as stupidity does.


For a designer, playing it safe is more cause for self-doubt than the fear of being wrong. Then the second guessing of being right too quickly kicks in. “Did I go with a solution that was too obvious? Was it so expected that it will be completely ineffective or go unnoticed? Maybe I should have pushed it more!” Ultimately, our clients expect us to present them with the best right answer, not the safest one. And the process of arriving at the best right answer ― the process that our clients generally don’t see ― involves many wrong answers. But each “wrong” eventually leads to being “right”!


Perhaps this day, a day when everything you do is right, is an opportunity for everyone to step out of their comfort zone, take some calculated risks and try an unexpected solution without the fear of being “wrong”.  Or, in other words, think like a designer ― where being wrong all day is so, so right.

Photo of Jan

Jan Badger, Shape Shifter at Fifth Letter, is handy when you want to start a fire and fills many roles including making sure projects deliver on time and on budget. Contact Jan to learn more about her Project Manager Mastermind Group at