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Being right vs getting things right


Is it really a product blog without a single quote from Steve Jobs? Relax there will be no quote from the man, but there will be a quote about him. And it just might explain the secret behind his extremely successful career.

As I read many books pretty quickly (ok, I listen to them), I don't always remember much from the books I've read. Usually, if I cannot recall anything from the book I read a few months ago is a sign that the book didn't offer useful insights for me at the time or the writing came in the way of learning. If I remember one thing - that's pretty good already. A few takeaways - fantastic!

"Radical Candor" by Kim Scott is certainly the book I keep getting back to. Sometimes, a quote would pop into my mind from this book that would spark a whole new thinking process or be relevant when I am stuck and need some guidance.

I like that bit of dialogue in the book where the author describes her conversation with Intel CEO at the time, Andy Groove. He says about Steve Jobs that he always gets things right. Kim is sceptical, she says no one can be right all the time. Andy repeats: he's not right all the time, he gets things right.

This sounds like a minor difference where in fact - it's a massive one. Thinking you're always right is a destructive, arrogant idea while thinking you'll get it right through iterations of being wrong - that's what leads to great products and innovations.

Being right is a state, which is by nature static and rarely revised. Getting things right is a process which is practised and adapted with every iteration.

The tricky thing is that we work in the industry (of building software products) that value being right over getting things right. It starts with hiring where most companies prioritise prior experience to potential. When a new expert starts we give them only a brief moment when it's fine to ask questions and not know things. But shortly after we expect them to be "know it all" in their area or, in other words, to be right.

Then we give them an ambitious challenge and often get disappointed when it's not working out on the first attempt. Or the second. This puts so much pressure on all parties involved and leads to burnout and subpar outcomes.

Wouldn't it be better if we strive to get things right instead of being right?

It wouldn't cost us much to try. We can start by giving attitude a chance over experience. Then we can prioritise long-term outcomes over short-term outputs. Next, perhaps we can celebrate failures as invaluable sources of learning. And hundreds of other things, big or small, that we can try to do differently to shift the culture.

Being right is not cool anymore. Getting things right is.

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