Most leaders think they are right most of the time. I’m not sure it’s that simple. What if the question of, “am I right?” is the wrong one? The question should be, “to what degree am I right?” If facts (those pillars of truth in our lives) have a half-life, what chance do you and I have of being entirely right about anything?
The Half-Life of Facts
“Facts change all the time. Smoking has gone from doctor recommended to deadly. We used to think the Earth was the center of the universe and that Pluto was a planet. For decades we were convinced that the brontosaurus was a real dinosaur.”
The Half-life of Facts by Samuel Arbesman
The last part of that quote hurts the most. I loved the brontosaurus as a kid! The half-life of facts is the amount of time it takes until half of the facts we know are superseded by new learning or proven to be incorrect. The half-life of facts changes from field to field, but if I recall, the average half-life of facts is around 55 years, meaning that in 55 years, half of all the facts we know will be outdated or just flat out wrong.
If this is true, and I believe Pluto’s planetary status demonstrates that it is, what chance do any of us have of being entirely right about anything?
The danger of assuming in absolutes
Have you ever been in a fight with your spouse or significant other, fully convinced you are 100% right, and they are 100% wrong? Then, as the fight goes on, your anger subsides, logic starts to trickle in, and you realize that maybe it’s not that simple? I’m sure there are cases when someone is 100% right and the other person is 100% wrong, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been a part of one.
Things tend to work out better for me when I admit my part of an issue. Maybe I was 5% of the problem, or 95%, but knowing and owning my part are always a part of the healing process of reconciliation.
Thinking in absolutes is easy and a little lazy. When my kids come home telling me that Pluto isn’t a planet anymore, I have two choices. I can argue with them that it is and tell them their teacher and scientists are stupid. Or, I can learn from my kids about Pluto’s new classification and why.
At work, I can come up with a plan, pitch it to my team, and assume that is 100% the right way to go. Or, I can get feedback from my team and keep 85% of my original plan, but adding 15% from the team to improve and make it better.
Even in parenting, my approach usually isn’t 100% correct and needs input from my wife or kids to get to a place where things work for all of us.
As nice as it is when things are simple, they rarely are that way. Being correct and being wrong isn’t always as simple as those words indicate.
Great leadership reading from this week
3 unexpected benefits to shifting your mindset about time - I love the quote from Jeff Bezos in this article, “If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people. But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that. Just by lengthening the time horizon, you can engage in endeavors that you could never otherwise pursue.”
Think Lazy, Watch Reality TV, and Other Odd Productivity Tips From CEOs of America's Fastest-Growing Businesses - Several of these seem like terrible ideas to me. But, this article helped me understand that good work doesn’t always happen the same way for everyone, and that’s ok.
I’m thinking about - how time-bound tasks work
I used to assign my kids chores like “clean the kitchen.” And, my kids constantly complained they were “always cleaning.” Then I saw a TikTok about cleaning based on a timer instead and decided to try it. Now, the chores are done, and bonus, my kids can’t say they clean “all the time” because they know it was only 20-minutes! Now I tell my kids to set a 20-minute timer, work hard during that time, and they will be done.
Interesting reading from this week
The 3 Moves to Make in Every Negotiation: Flinch, Reflect, and Go Silent - This article makes me want to go negotiate to buy something.
115 years ago, a deadly race riot reshaped Atlanta - It’s not widely talked about, but important to remember this event.
‘I’m a Urologist, and You Should Follow the 20 Second Bladder Rule’ - This was pretty interesting and came from research from Georgia Tech!
Interesting podcasts from this week
The Bobby Knight Problem - The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill - This episode explores why organizations protect their leaders when they misbehave.
My Podcasts to check out
Tech Talk Y’all - My tech/comedy news podcast.
TogetherLetters - My podcast about the app that I’m helping build to keep people better connected.
Real Pink - I host the national podcast for Susan G. Komen. If you want some inspiration or information about breast cancer, give it a listen.
TechBridge Talks - A podcast about using technology to end generational poverty.
That’s a wrap!
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As a proof to your point, the Brontosaurus was reclassified as a dinosaur in 2015, after scientists discovered it was sufficiently distinct enough from the Apatosaurus to be it's own family: https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/brontosaurus-reinstating-a-prehistoric-icon.html
I'm reminded of Tommy Lee Jones's line to Will Smith in "Men in Black", after Smith's character learns about the existence of aliens and the MIB program:
"1500 years ago, everybody 'knew' that the earth was the center of the universe. 500 years ago, everybody 'knew' that the earth was flat. And 15 minutes ago, you 'knew' that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll 'know' tomorrow."
Keeping an attitude of genuine humility about our certainties—what we "know"—is a wise idea for every leader. We should hold our ideas loosely, always looking for fresh evidence and new information, because that means we've adopted what Dweck termed a "Growth Mindset" as opposed to a "Fixed Mindset"; and a growth mindset opens us up to do exactly that: grow in our wisdom, knowledge, and influence, which only increases our leadership credibility.