To be right or effective?

Google the title. My browser returned 650 million hits.

Decades ago, an executive tossed this question to one of my colleagues. She was stunned and stumped. So was I. Since then, I have never asked this question to anyone, since I am still searching for the answer.

Recently, a senior manager said in the boss’s staff meeting, “Months ago, I said that your approach won’t work for the other project which is now in disarray. I was proven right, and you wrong. Heed my advice or you will fail again.” Everyone sat in stunned silence. She did not even know how she was wrong.

At the logical level, the causal relationship with the other project was not clear. Before that, the past experience does not predict future. Like everything else, the project was risky to begin with and it could have failed for completely unrelated reasons. Her prediction does not make her more right today. No one knew her batting average either, was she right 1% of the time or 99%? Being right once before does not mean she will be right again.

At the human level, nobody likes to be called wrong. Nobody likes “score keepers.” Nobody likes someone who predicts failure only to prove a point. Not so surprisingly, she was voted off the island the next round.

Only at the simplest level are opinions or judgements either right or wrong. Most of the time, there are different points of view and there is no absolute correctness. There are risk v. benefit, short- vs. long-term, market share v. profitability, strategic v. tactical, etc. There is rarely an obvious right answer to any question.

Secondly, execution effectiveness predicts success better than the quality of the decision. For example, an efficient factory can produce goods at lower costs and faster. It enables a lower price point and wider distribution which could win over the competitor even if the competitor’s product is better. In today’s workspace, execution frequently means effective collaboration where argumentative behavior is damaging.

The answer is, therefore, “That’s the wrong question.”

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