50% Wrong

Try to Be 50% Wrong from Both Sides

When extremists on both sides claim that you’re 50% wrong, you can feel confident that you’re probably right where you should be.

Vegetables are healthy, but I’ve never heard someone suggest that eating only vegetables is a wise approach to long-term health. Likewise, running is a fantastic way to stay fit, but nobody claims that we should do all our day-to-day movements running.

If this makes sense to you—it certainly does to me—then why are conferences, courses, and communities so full of extreme messages?

“Let’s get rid of all the managers!”

“Teams should always be co-located.”

“You should do projects with no estimates.”

Extremists’ Opinions

It happened again last week, at the Spark the Change conference in London. Paul Thomas, a very inspiring keynote speaker, suggested that employees should stop using email completely and instead always talk with each other face-to-face.


When people replace just 20% of the emails they send me with a face-to-face conversation, it means my work is going to be interrupted every 15 minutes because someone decides to have a chat with me. For an introvert like me, that doesn’t sound like an attractive idea!

It’s the same with every other extremist opinion:

You cannot get rid of all management, because management is necessary to add purpose and constraints to self-organization. Both too much and too little management can be a major problem in organizations.

You cannot require everyone to work in co-located teams, saying that people are more innovative when they work together. It’s just as true that people are more productive when they work alone, and organizations need both innovation and productivity.

You cannot get rid of all estimates, because estimates are sometimes necessary to enable commitment and trust. Obviously, it is true that an estimation addiction serves no purpose other than satisfying corporate number-crunchers.

And yes, wading through too much email is a productivity killer for organizations, but too much disruptive face-to-face chatter is not going to help anyone either. I prefer to write this blog post without any interruptions, thank-you-very-much.

Replace Dogma with Direction

Extreme dogmatic messages can sometimes be useful, because they can inspire people who are 100% wrong to reverse course and start moving in the opposite direction. However, the goal is not to be 100% wrong on the other end of the spectrum!

The optimum is usually in the middle.

When extremists on both sides claim that you’re 50% wrong, you can feel confident that you’re probably right where you should be.

p.s. This blog post might be 50% wrong.

(image: Hitchster, Creative Commons)

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  • http://blog.thecodewhisperer.com J. B. Rainsberger

    I have found only one consistently good use of extreme messages: encouraging people to give up a crutch for a while in order to learn to do other things. I put ideas like “no estimates” and “no production code without a failing test” in that category.

    Of course, when we don’t remember the context of a timeboxed experiment in extremism for the purpose of giving up a crutch, then we look a lot like lunatics with these extreme messages. What a shame that it so often takes an extreme message to get people’s attention.

    • jurgenappelo

      Nicely phrased, thanks.

  • http://www.teamcoach.se Michael Göthe

    I like how Ken Wilber often puts it: “No one is smart enough to be wrong 100% of the time”. Therefor there is some degree of truth in all opinions but it also means that no one can be 100% right. Which invalidates the extreme dogmatic approach. This leads us to the black and white (either or) trap. What we need is to integrate key aspects from different approaches. We need more both and solutions. We can increase face to face time AND allow for e-mails.

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