Chris Castiglione Co-founder of Adjunct Prof at Columbia University Business School.

How to Admit You’re Wrong

5 min read

Founder Friday Notes

For a while now I’ve been wanting to share more about what it’s like to build a startup and what challenges you face as an entrepreneur. So I’m doing a series of short, candid, quick videos and blog posts – I call itFounder Friday.

If you want to see more of these, share a note in the comments and let me know what you think.

People sometimes get mad at me because I change my mind a lot. I sometimes get mad at myself for doing it.

Chris always reminds me about new ideas: “Well maybe that doesn’t apply to us. It works for them, but maybe we’re different.”

We think of being decisive, stubborn, and steadfast as being a good thing. Often we think of changing your mind as a sign of weakness. But I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. It’s one of those seeming paradoxes.

The reason is: in order to be right, you also need to be willing to be wrong a lot of the time. You need to be able to try a lot of things, and make a lot of mistakes, in order to learn.

Jeff Bezos gave some great advice to 37 Signals a while ago, talking about how the smartest people often changed their minds:

“People who were right a lot of the time were people who often changed their minds. ” — Jeff Bezos

Is this a contradiction?

You want to have strong opinions, but held weakly. You want to have strong ideas, but willing to change your mind if new evidence comes up that might make you change your mind.

The value of action

We need to be able to act on something without all of the information we could possibly have. A lot of people want to collect all the information and know everything before they make a decision.

The problem is we’ll never have enough information.

Colin Powell has a story about making decisions when you have between 30% to 70% of the information you need. You should make a decision when you have somewhere between 30 and 70 percent of the information that you need. Not less and not more.

The idea there is that if you have less than 30% of the data to make a decision, then you’re making it too quickly. If you have more than 70% however, then you’re waiting too long. I know that goes against a bunch of people’s ideas that you should wait to make a thoughtful, well-crafted decision, but there’s a value in action that is incredibly high and hard to quantify.

(Also, keep in mind that the idea of knowing what makes up a perfect 100% of all information you need is also arbitrary.)

Arianna Huffington speaks about this, too. She says (I’m paraphrasing) that we should be a lot more like children, ready and willing to try new things, let go. Children are emotionally volatile — they feel high highs and low lows, and can change it up. They let go of things very quickly, and much of that we can model as adults.

If we want to learn new things, we need to try new things and not be afraid of failure.

Analysis Paralysis, The Paradox of Choice, and Missing Out

We often suffer from analysis paralysis and decision unhappiness, and fear of missing out. We delay decisions because we’re afraid of making the wrong one. Often we don’t make a decision at all.

There’s a study that showed that the more options you gave someone, the less they were able to decide. In your startup, conversion rate studies agree with this.

But what’s the value of making a decision?

Getting to see the results sooner. Not having to worry about the decision, and being able to free up that mental space. Being someone people go to for guidance. Making mistakes and iterating faster.Practicing your decision-making ability. Being different from most people.

Being a great decision-maker will make you stand out as a person and a leader.

Decision making and decisiveness

A lot of people have a hard time making decisions. The upside to this? If you learn how to make decisions, you’ll stand out.

As Tony Robbins says, the one power that all human beings have that make them special is the ability to make a decision. That’s what’s within your control.

How do you improve your decision making ability? Practice. Literally practice making more decisions, making them faster, and being a decisive person.

The next time you’re waffling, pick something and see what happens.

Things that get in the way of decision making

Unfortunately there are a lot of things that get in the way of becoming a great decision-maker.

Not recognizing your own biases

I definitely think this way, and I try to think it about beliefs as well. It’s going to be hard to not listen to biases. I recognize that I have biases.

We want to think that we’re right. We’re going to cherry-pick data. We’re going to be exceptionalists. We’re going to want to ignore things. We’re going to be lazy and not want to try things. We’re going to get defensive if we think we’re wrong, or we think people are attacking us.

There’s the whole Harvard Implicit Bias test which is really interesting to check out. It’s a great way to test your own assumptions and learn how you’re biased in the first place. Also, the 10 Logical Fallacies poster is an awesome reminder of how our own minds fail when making judgments.


Exceptionalism is the idea that things are different for us. That we’re the exception.

I hate that idea.

The problem with exceptionalism is that it rationalizes not doing something (or doing something) without data and without even thinking about how it might apply to you. It prevents learning.

If something is a possible idea, then why not try it? There’s only one way to know, right? It’s the try it. I think there should be an Occam’s Razor of exceptionalism.

I change my mind all the time. But I’m also very motivated and driven when I think something is right. I don’t mind being proven wrong. But I also don’t mind doing something with little data.

Staying humble and admitting when you’re wrong

There’s a section in the book How to Win Friends and Influence People when Dale Carnegie is young and corrects someone at a dinner party. He asks his friend who’s right and his friend kicks him under the table. Later he says “of course you’re right, but this person didn’t want to hear that he was wrong.”

The key to all of this is to stay humble. You can do that by admitting that you’re wrong more. That requires starting to recognize that you’re wrong. In fact, tell people you’re wrong even when you think you’re right. Not always, but experiment with doing it more than you do. (You’ll probably heal a lot of relationships. Especially when it doesn’t matter.)

Stop trying to be right all the time. Stop correcting people in conversation who are wrong when you think you’re right.

I do things wrong all the time. I get called out by my team, and it doesn’t help anyone if I get all bent out of shape and mad about it — it’s so much better for all of us (and our team’s ability to iterate quickly) if I’m like “Wow, thanks, awesome to know.”

Also, it means I get to the right answer again, and that’s fun, too.

A great way to get better at this is to put yourself in more situations where you’re wrong to make yourself comfortable with being wrong.

Set up little opportunities for success. I call them serendipity bombs. 999 out of 1000 will be a dud, the fuse won’t light and you’ll feel like a failure. That’s okay. The 1 out of 1000 is worth it.

As Wayne Gretzy says, You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Key Takeaways:

  • Become a better decision-maker is key to being a leader.
  • Making decisions means being comfortable not being right all the time.
  • Consider how you feel about being wrong, and try making more decisions and being wrong more.
  • Great leaders aren’t right all the time, they’re quick to learn and quick to admit when they’ve made mistakes.
  • Admitting that you’re wrong more often is a great way to enable your learning muscles.

The Founder Friday Series:

For a while now I’ve been wanting to share more about what it’s like to build a startup and what challenges you face as an entrepreneur. So I’m doing a series of short, candid, quick videos and blog posts – I call it Founder Friday.

If you want to see more of these, share a note in the comments and let me know what you think.

What challenges do you face in your business or company? Any questions we can answer for for you? 

Learn to Code Comment Avatar
Chris Castiglione Co-founder of Adjunct Prof at Columbia University Business School.