The Wrong Answer


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Are your staff stupid?

Have you ever asked them to do something so obvious that it simply wasn’t possible to misunderstand?  A nice, easy job.  Something they couldn’t fluff — if they only thought about it for two minutes — yet they still messed it up.

Do they ever come back with completely the wrong answer?

It does my head in when they do that.

But there is something worse, far worse still…

Sometimes the wrong answer isn’t wrong

Let me give you an example.  What are the next 2 numbers in this sequence?

1, 2, 4, …

Isn’t it obvious?

  • The answer is 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, the sequence is simply doubling.
  • Or maybe the answer is 1, 2, 4, 7, 11, the gap is increasing by 1 every time
  • Or maybe the answer is 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, also known as the connell sequence
  • Or maybe …

Sometimes there is more than one right answer. The wrong answer isn’t always wrong.

How do you cope with that?

When somebody confronts you with the wrong answer do you ask yourself who is wrong?  You or them or both of you or neither?  Do you listen to what they have to say?

How would you like your staff to spend their time?

  • Wandering around second guessing what you think the right answer is?
  • Applying themselves to the problem and coming up with an innovative solution?

Who is right, you or them?

Tragically we only realise that their wrong answer could just be right by questioning our own answer.

Which is hard, particularly if you — like me — are never wrong.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

James Lawther
James Lawther is a middle-aged middle manager. To reach this highly elevated position he has worked for many organisations, from supermarkets to tax collectors and has had multiple roles from running a night shift to doing operational research. He gets upset by operations that don't work and mildly apoplectic about poor customer service.


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