I often talk about ‘permission’ an easily shoplifted thing: you can be given it, or you can pick it up and walk away with it. And nobody can stop you. Permission can be granted, or it can be claimed. Not all permission of course: formal permission, within a formal space, is almost by definition a gift of the formal structure, an award for consensus and loyalty. But permission to express, to share stories, well that kind of permission can be claimed, even if only as invisible cultural graffiti, anonymously scrawled, spoken from the soul, unattributable, a voice to be claimed. And permission to be wrong? That’s hard to say: many organisations say ‘we only learn through failure’, and yet, in a very real way, we pay a high price for it. Not necessarily a formal, one, but possibly a reputation based and tangible one. Being wrong is tough.
I’ve taken to explaining how much of my own work is wrong. Not all of it and, i hope, none of it intentionally, or maliciously, but nevertheless, in it’s own way, much of it will be wrong. The consolation, at least in my eyes, of #WorkingOutLoud, is that being wrong is an almost inevitable step on the journey to being fractionally closer to right. When visualising abstract social systems, when building abstractions to represent complex and dynamic interactions, we are often wrong in the details, but can learn to be right in the frame. We can learn to build useful abstractions: not exact and predictive representations of what is true, but useful and pragmatic abstractions of that truth.
I guess that is what all models are: not reality, but rather conceptual frames that we can project our reality upon.
Another aspect of this view is that are all, in our own ways, wrong. ‘Truth’ is like history, an ultimately subjective construct, hence why most formal leadership development is wrong, or weak: it falls into the trap that you can teach leadership, whilst in fact, all you can do is to create a space, provocations, exploratory space, and capability, to learn what ‘leadership’ means to me. My ultimate understanding of anything is always within my cognitive space and sense of self. At some level, if it does not relate back to me, to my sense of ideals, of values, of right and wrong, it’s just abstract.
Don’t get me wrong, there are many great leadership practitioners, it’s just that the ultimate understanding of ‘leadership’ is created in the individual, not on a page. Or certainly not on a page that i write. We each write our own story when we learn.
So let’s claim our permission: if we have a humility to believe that we have not yet learnt everything there is to learn, if we have a capacity for change, then claiming a permission to be wrong, as we explore, as we learn, is a vital component of growth. So here’s to claiming a permission to be wrong, whilst maintaining a drive, a desire, to learn how to be marginally more ‘right’.