Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Secret of Being Wrong

“The secret of being wrong isn't to avoid being wrong! The secret is being willing to be wrong. The secret is realizing that wrong isn't fatal. The only thing that makes people and organizations great is their willingness to be not great along the way. The desire to fail on the way to reaching a bigger goal is the untold secret of success.” ― Seth Godin

Seth Godin, author, blogger, marketer, and motivational speaker, says that wrong is not fatal and being willing to fail is part of success. His experience suggests that companies that achieve greatness are those that were willing to be “not great.” In fact, he says that people and organizations need to “desire to fail.” I encourage us to think about these words for a few minutes. There are definitely ways in which these words may be true. In Creativity, Inc., Ed Catmull makes a case for failure. He points out that Pixar would never have become as successful as they have become without some of their failures (e.g., the accidental deletion of Toy Story 2). The willingness to take big risks and chase down big dreams has been at the heart of Pixar from day one. So, in this context, Godin’s words have a kernel of truth. They likely make good sense for a number of organizations, churches, companies, and not-for-profit enterprises.

However, there are some places where Seth Godin’s words should give us pause. The desire to fail at marriage as a means to reaching a bigger goal is not a secret to success. Raising children, learning to fly a jet airliner, and defusing bombs also come to mind. There are some enterprises where the risks of failure are simply too high. There are likely a few specific operations within organizations, companies, and not-for-profits that are also too sensitive for failure.

I say this partly to engage our discernment processes. A quote like this one from Seth Godin circulates rapidly and shows up in a variety of contexts and on many different blog sites. It is incredibly enticing and thoroughly plausible. It is hard not to simply run with it. After all, isn’t Godin some sort of expert? Here is where it is good to examine the credentials of the expert to whom we may listen.

I am not suggesting we ignore the words of this quote. As a means of reminding ourselves that we need not fear failure, and as a reminder that failure is often not fatal, these words are helpful. Yet, as I have attempted to show, there are times and places where wisdom will suggest that we forget these words, no matter how expert the author may be. Have a great time driving your car, teaching your kids how to ride a bike, defusing bombs, or wherever else this day may take you.


  1. I'm not in agreement with the statement "companies that achieve greatness are those that were willing to be “not great.”". I don't think that captures the right sentiment. The Pixar example is a good one in that they push the boundaries and therefore must expect some failures. No failures would indicate to them they are not pushing hard enough. But I would not agree they are willing to be "not great".

    1. Good point Gerry. Nice to see the discernment gears in motion. You have described this well and made a nice distinction: expecting some failures is different than being willing to be "not great."