Based in Mahone Bay, nova scotia, agile libre is an independent publisher of technical books about the subsurface.  

Wrong is good for you

Good geophysicists, like all good professionals, continually learn. The classic insight is that the more you know, the more you realize how little you actually know. Thus, knowledge of your ignorance grows. In my experience, lots of people never pay attention to the fact that learning often implies ‘having been wrong’. Remember that next time someone tells you that you did it wrong.

Being wrong is not easy. Some people don’t like being told. They get angry. Some people — especially people from certain countries and cultures — react in a sort of apologetic way: ‘Oh, but I did it because…’, ‘How was I to know that…’, ‘It won’t happen again. ’ I consider it my first task to attack that ingrained defence mechanism full-force.

  • You did it with all the best intentions (trust).
  • You are not an idiot (confidence).
  • That’s it. Stop whining. Loosen up and learn.

Invariably, at one time or another, I introduce the famous ‘Four stages of com­petence’. None of my students had ever heard of them before. Actually, I only learned about them myself a couple of years ago from a friend who studied adult learning. It is astonishing because the concepts are so simple, general, and intuitive.

The two key ingredients are awareness and competence. Multiply these two and you get four states:

  1. unconsciously incompetent
  2. consciously incompetent
  3. consciously competent
  4. unconsciously competent

Think about the sequence of migrating from 1 to 4. When you do that, if you’re a bit like me, you’ll get a smile on your face. Such simple words, so elegantly wording what we all go through. To be able to get to the state of automatically handling something right, you have to learn how to do it, which you can only do if you understand that you couldn’t do it (right) before. The key thing here is the planting of the seed: the realization that there is something not right.

Now apply the four states on a meta-level. You realize learning needs to go like this, so you start changing your response:

‘Hey Joe, what’s that? You’re doing it wrong!’

‘Eh?…But…hummmpf…OK. ’

This in turn increases your social skills. People love being right, and like to be acknowledged. Now you have learned you were incompetent in handling your incompetence, you are starting to learn how to handle it. You’re moving to the consciously competent state in successfully managing your incompetence. And after a while, you get to stage four. You never hesitate to do the right thing:

‘Hey Joe, what’s that? You’re doing it wrong!’

‘Wow, thanks man! I owe you one!’

And this, ambitious geophysicists, is the key skill you need to reach the top. Yes there are people who have reached some kind of top without it, but may I call your attention to the problem of the local maximum? Go for the global maximum. Be good at being wrong.

What are turbidity currents?

Watch out for Paul Bunyan

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