What’s one of the easiest and best ways to unite the people in the room into a cohesive whole?
Surprisingly it is to tell a bad joke- when it’s done well it puts everyone at ease and gets them on side.
This is partly because catching the eye of the person next to you and connecting in mutually agreed superiority (to the joke teller) is a great way to bond.
But it also does something that goes completely against one of our big societal norms- the need to be right, do things well and be consistent.
As a friend (irritatingly) said to me about 10 years ago when I was complaining about a relationship (you see I still remember- I was that irritated)- ‘you’d rather be right than happy.’ Gah!
And in that particular instance she was right, as you can see by my over-reaction.
When we are too attached to being right then we can very often become entrenched in our current position and lose touch with what is actually going on.
This is why we can sometimes refuse to back down in an argument even though we know deep down we’ve got it wrong.
It turns out there is a very good reason for this stubbornness and that’s that humans value consistency extremely highly.
Professor Cialdini has written about this principle and in his book ‘Weapons of Influence’ where he suggests that it is of very high importance to be seen as somebody who is consistent.
In a society where you have to rely on other people for survival the price of being unreliable could be very high.
It could mean that you don’t have any food for dinner on the table or that you’re attacked by a wild animal.
This carries over to our status within the group- even if that group is made up of only two people we value consistency very, very highly.
So the message is whatever you do. Don’t. Get it. Wrong!
This need to be (seen to be) right creates a big problem because if we want to be truly creative we have to follow our line of thinking or action through to completion.
This means we have to be open to making mistakes and getting it wrong which dramatically undermines our desire to be correct and consistent.
In an ideal world we can stop when the time is right- just as a project is coming to completion or before disaster strikes.
But all too often we don’t realise until our actions are totally out of alignment with the needs of the situation until it is too late and we are totally exposed.
At this point there are only two possible actions. Either you go deeper into your commitment to your wrong-headed point of view.
Or you put your hands up, cut your losses and experience the pain, shame, discomfort but also the sweet relief of setting yourself free of the prison of sticking to the idea or action that is wrong.
Easy enough to say but not so easy to do.
So how can we begin to get used to and even start to enjoy getting it wrong.
There are two components. The first is some awareness that there is this fight between the creative demand (which means we have to get it wrong some of the time) and the survival demand (the need to be consistent).
We can’t get rid of these two contradictory pulls in us but we can begin understand how they work in us. As we do this the survival demand loses some of its power.
The second component is to explore some of the benefits of getting it wrong.
Firstly, if we hold up our hands and admit we’re going down the wrong path we can avoid enormous costs down the line. Like as with a poor investment we stop throwing good money after bad.
A second benefit, is that there can also be the most enormous amount of connection generated by the vulnerability that we show when we admit that we were wrong. This connection can sometimes almost magically create a bond with somebody where just moments ago there was only hostility.
And then there is the relief that comes. I believe that this comes from two sources.
One is that we have let go of the stress of holding onto two opposing thoughts where we are sticking with the wrong opinion even though another part of us knows deep down that it’s wrong. This causes so much stress it can quite literally cause us to break down.
The second is that when we come into alignment with what we know to be true we automatically align ourselves to a worldview that has more clarity and insight and sees things from the standpoint of the bigger picture. From this place our decisions have a sense of peace associated with them.
And there are other benefits of being able to admit that we were wrong.
We can commit more fully to how we feel in the movement and express it more fully because we know that we can adjust and adapt.
We get better at coming up with new and different ideas because we experience in a real way that they are stepping stones to greater truth and insight.
And then there is the greatest freedom that developing ease with being wrong can give. As we get to know our different and sometimes contradictory inner voices we become more accepting- not just of ourselves but also of those around us. And this is the greatest foundation for our creativity to flourish.