I may not always be right...
Early on in my career, I was supervised by one of the firm’s senior partners. Every day, sometimes more than once a day, I would have to take every piece of work I did and he would sit and check it. I felt like a little kid waiting in front of the teacher’s desk. I took to looking out the window behind him, because in those situations where do you look? On his window ledge he had a plaque which said ‘I may not always be right, but am never wrong.’ This is actually part of a quote from Samuel Goldwyn, but I didn’t know that at the time. I used to think ‘what an arrogant ****’, does he really think his opinion is the only right one?’
Now fast-forward seven years and I finally understand the meaning of the plaque.
When you are asked a question you either know the answer or you do not.
If you do not know the answer, you can find it out or you can guess. Neither of these strategies is wrong. Generally, people think that you shouldn’t guess. Have you ever taken a multi-answer quiz online and kept repeating the question until you picked the right answer? That’s because you are wonderful curious creature who cannot accept the wrong answer and go ‘oh well I don’t know that!’ Instead, you say ‘Hey I need to know the right answer or I won’t be able to sleep tonight.’
You may have to get the answer wrong again and again, but at the end, you would have learned something. If you do something wrong enough you get to right. If you had to guess again and again or spend hours researching to get the answer, you will probably retain the answer for longer. I have read a lot about this principle when inventors and innovators try again and again until eventually, they succeed. Perhaps we call it determinism in the face of failure and it's an important skill.
With modern technology our curiosity to know the right answer has grown, and we user our guessing skills to guess key words to put into search engines. You may not always get the right answer, but guessing gives you a ball park.
Accordingly, the only way you can be wrong is to not even attempt to answer the question. That supervising partner, who I thought of as arrogant and difficult, was actually saying something very fundamental about himself - he tries.
He knew that about himself. He knew that he would always attempt to answer the question and that way he could never be wrong. Actually, he was trying to offer support and to tell me that he was checking things over so I didn’t stress about not having all the right answers. He didn’t know how to answer the question; what is the correct way to supervise staff? He was guessing, perhaps he did some research, but he was trying to answer that question.
Either way, he has taught me something very valuable; ‘I might not always be right, but I am never wrong’.