Founder and CEO of O2E Brands, the parent company of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, WOW 1 DAY PAINTING, You Move Me, and Shack Shine.
When growing up, I was known to be a bit of a troublemaker. I bent the rules. Every teacher described me as “disruptive” and they didn’t mean it in a nice way. My unwillingness to obey authority also meant I had a hard time admitting when I was wrong. But I’ve since learned the value of acknowledging your mistakes – in life and at work.
Learning to see your own weak spots isn’t easy. It’s a practice in intellectual humility, a trait that measures your ability to acknowledge when you might be wrong. Turns out there’s an art to making mistakes and accepting it gracefully.
I’ve always believed that if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. Here’s how to get over your ego, get comfortable being wrong and use it to your advantage.
We’re conditioned to need to be right
Humans are hard-wired to want to have all the answers. From our childhoods, we’re taught that being right increases our value and being wrong makes us weak. In fact, the entire education system is based on this belief (and that’s just one of the reasons I believe schools are failing us).
I remember sitting in class as my peers eagerly raised their hands, seeking the gratification of getting the right answer. I never put my hand up, afraid to be humiliated if I was wrong. And the idea that being right leads to success isn’t limited to the classroom – it follows us into the workplace. And it’s completely out of line with what it actually takes to succeed.
In the early days of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, I thought I should have the final word on everything. It was my company, after all, so I thought I knew what was best. But by insisting I was always right, I alienated my team and stifled their creativity. I should have been learning from their expertise instead of getting in the way.
Steve Jobs once said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” Asking for help doesn’t make you weak – it means you’re smart enough to recognize when you need support. Trust your colleagues to do what they do best so you can focus on your strengths, too.
Being wrong unlocks endless innovation
We have a unique mindset at our company: We think everyone should be comfortable saying “WTF.” To us, this stands for “Willing To Fail.” We encourage people to get things wrong because we believe failure leads to success.
Not all companies create a safe space for people to mess up, though. The pressure to always be on is real and it can have serious side effects, such as burnout, disengagement and attrition. It took me a long time but I’ve learned that success isn’t about having the right answers – it’s about asking the right questions. And when people have the freedom to get curious, that’s when innovation thrives.
A few years ago, while hiring a digital marketing director, I asked each candidate what they thought of our website. Most of them smiled and nodded, assuring me it was on point. That is, until I met Gabe. He was the only person who wasn’t afraid to have the wrong answer and ask questions about why we made certain decisions. I wanted to hire him on the spot – and to this day, he’s still helping us make innovative changes to our marketing strategy.
No matter what you do, there will likely always be some level of competitiveness with your colleagues. But refusing to see your own blind spots could hold you back from your full potential. Showing humility with your team opens up the opportunity for big growth on a personal and professional scale.
The next time you feel the pressure to be right, resist it. Instead, get curious, ask the tough questions and don’t be afraid to say the wrong thing. When you’re truly free to think outside the box, big things happen. At the very least, you’ll gain a new perspective you never imagined.
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