We all make bad decisions from time to time, though it’s often a good thing. Thomas Edison failed on nearly 6,000 types of filament for the light bulb, including some crazy tries like hairs from a friend’s beard, but that’s what helped lead to his genius invention.
When I make a seemingly dumb choice, there are two quotes that help me keep it in the right frame.
First, as Fyodor Dostoevsky has said, “everything seems stupid when it fails.” If something goes wrong, hindsight makes it super clear where it failed, which will often make you regret your decision. Of course, good decisions can have bad outcomes, so perhaps you made a good decision that simply didn’t work out well.
Second, failing in the right way can still look alright. J.M. Keynes said:
“Worldly wisdom teaches us that it is better for reputation to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally.”
It’s like the old quote “nobody gets fired for buying IBM“. They’re considered a safe choice, so if things go wrong you can show how you tried to play it safe.
I like to think I fall into the “succeed unconventionally” group, but it certainly has more risk. Buying from IBM is one thing, but if you buy from a new startup and it goes sideways, you could find yourself in a world of hurt.
I’ll make plenty more dumb decisions in my life, but I hope I can become wise enough to recognize the difference between a bad decision versus a good decision that happened to end poorly, and take the correct lesson away for next time.
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