The Joy of Being Wrong

Working in tech is a pretty amazing career. The pay is good. We get to affect people’s lives. We see behind the curtain of how the world runs now. And we have the dubious honor of always being wrong.

That’s right. You’re wrong. And so am I! It’s one of the more interesting aspects of working in technology.

The very earliest of our ancestors – those who began farming – would harvest food without the use of refined tools. They might pick fruits or pull plants out of the ground by hand. We eventually invented scythes which made wheat a more manageable food to harvest. Then (a few years later) we invented the powered combine harvester, and then we improved upon that again.

With each step, the step before was proven wrong. Or at least desperately insufficient. I can hear people saying, “Oh, it’s only an improvement. It’s too negative to say it was wrong!” Of course it’s a cycle and of course I’m not literally insulting the past.

But I feel that really to be an innovator, we have to be comfortable with acknowledging how wrong we are today, and will be tomorrow. In fact, telling yourself that you are wrong and that’s okay is key to allowing yourself the freedom to actually think outside the box and deliver cool stuff quickly.

It’s one of the core techniques I’ve used, successfully, to build a lot of different really innovative technology. Accepting that the tools and products I’m using today are crappy, and I’m going to go make one that is also crappy, but less so. It frees you up!

This is especially important because so many tech people are deeply analytical and that tends to drive people to look for absolute truth. I’ve heard zealous proclamations about test driven development, classical responsive web design, pair programming, etc., and I always respond to them that they might be more right than they were with the last idea, but that they are also deeply wrong.

In 50 years, most of the things we do day-to-day in this industry will seem cute, odd, and foolish. And, that’s awesome. I love that we are pushing things forward and always finding a better way. I love that the newest projects I’m working on, while I believe they are better, are going to be replaced one day by something much, much better.

Not all careers have this kind of never ending wrongness. Artists aren’t usually told later that their style was antiquated. No one says Monet is old fashioned and silly. What was done in the contemporary is always fresh, and remains as an evergreen reminder of the period.

We don’t have that luxury. But that’s totally okay. Embrace it! Love it! And go out there and have the guts to do something brave, because it’s okay! We’re all wrong, so let’s be wrong faster, and more often, and push things to the future, together.

Hampton headHampton Catlin is the creator of Sass, Haml, Tritium, and Wikipedia mobile. He’s one part back end developer, one part startup leader, and one part chaos monky. He’s also CEO of rarebit, which he co-founded with his husband. He speaks at a lot of conferences, writes a lot of code, and spends way too much time on Twitter at @hcatlin.