You Can Be Wrong and Still Win Big

Outsize success requires making decisions with imperfect information. You’re going to get some of them wrong. I believe a material percentage of them, 25% or more, will be wrong. That can be a big number. For every twenty decisions, you’ll get five or more of them wrong. What people don’t realize is that you can get lots of things wrong and still be wildly successful if you’re deciding and executing quickly.

You don’t just make bad decisions and end up having outsize success. There are a few key things to be aware of. One is to reflect and learn from your mistakes. Each decision produces information. Spend time thinking about the information that decision produced and why the decision was wrong. Sometimes it’s chance and there’s nothing you could have done to change the outcome. Often, there’s something you missed. You want to understand what you missed so you don’t make the same mistake going forward. When I reflect, I learn; when I learn, I improve my decision-making; and when my decision-making improves, I increase the percentage of decisions I make correctly with imperfect information (it will never be 100%, though).

The last thing you need to do is important and something I haven’t always done: when other people are involved in your decision-making process or affected by your decision, verbally acknowledge your decision was wrong. It’s hard for many people (including me) to do because of pride and ego. But there are so many benefits that it’s worth putting those things to the side.

When you’re the leader, you set the tone. When people hear their leader acknowledge that he or she isn’t perfect, they realize they don’t have to be perfect either. When people hear their leader share reflections from an incorrect decision, they start to reflect more and share their learnings. This has a huge impact on culture. People start to embrace acting with imperfect information instead of being paralyzed by the fear of making mistakes. They begin experimenting more and taking ownership of the results of their decisions.  

It's also important to speak directly to those who expressed opposition to your decision. It’s important to acknowledge that they were right and you were wrong. It’s not about competing with them; it’s about encouraging people to have confidence in their instincts or analysis. If someone is right and you don’t listen to them, you don’t want to discourage them from sharing their thoughts next time. You want them to have more confidence and conviction in sharing in the future, especially if they help your decision hit rate.

If you talk to people who’ve achieved outsize success, you’ll see they’re just like the rest of us. They made some decisions that were incorrect. What separates them from everyone else is the speed at which they decided and executed and what they did after a bad decision.