Why You Think You’re Right Even If You’re Wrong — TEDx PSU Talk by Julia Galef

Why You Think You’re Right – Even If You’re Wrong

TEDx PSU Talk by Julia Galef

Have you ever insisted on doing or saying something when you knew that it might not be right? Or perhaps you really did believe it to be right, but it was then proven that you were, indeed, wrong.

How does this happen? Is there some unconscious factor in play that creates these circumstances? As it turns out, there is and Julia Galef explains why in a very interesting TEDxTalk.

Julia Galef

Co-founder of the Center for Applied Rationality, Julia believes that “perspective is everything—especially when it comes to examining our beliefs.” In her talk she speaks of a “soldier” and a “scout” as metaphors to explain her theory.

Julia asks, “Are you a “soldier,” prone to defending your viewpoint at all costs — or a “scout,” spurred by curiosity?” She then examines the motivations behind these two mindsets and how they shape the way we interpret information. Interwoven in her talk is a compelling history lesson from 19th-century France that, in and of itself is great fun.

Imagine if you will that you are a “soldier” in the heat of battle with elevated adrenaline, actions stemming from deeply ingrained reflexes rooted in the need to protect yourself, your country and to defeat the enemy. And, if you find yourself as a “scout” in that same battle, you have a very different role. It is not your job to attack or defend; it is to understand. Mapping the terrain and identifying potential obstacles is your job. Above all, the “scout” wants to know what’s really there.

Julia argues that having good judgment, making accurate predictions and good decisions is mostly about your mindset.

She illustrates her theory with a story about an innocuous-looking piece of paper that launched one of the biggest political scandals in history. Known as The Dreyfus Affair, a group of officers was determined to find a fellow officer guilty of treason and did everything they could to convince themselves of this fact. Julia calls this “motivated reasoning,” a phenomenon in which our unconscious motivations, desires and fears shape the way we interpret information. And in this case a “soldier” mindset.

She also notes that Dreyfus was the only Jewish officer of that rank in the French Army that was at that time highly anti-Semitic. However, one of the officers, a man named Picquart who had the same prejudices as those who convicted Dreyfus, was motivated to find the truth. He had, according to Julia, “scout” mindset. The drive not to make one idea win or another lose, but just to see what really was there as honestly and accurately as possible, even if it was not pretty, convenient or pleasant. I will let you read the conclusion of the story yourself.

Julia continues to study the cluster of traits found in “scouts” that predict good judgment. “And they are not about how smart you are or about how much you know,” she adds. “They don’t correlate very much with IQ at all, but are about how you feel.”

She ends her talk with the following questions: “When your steadfast opinions are tested, “What do you most yearn for? Do you yearn to defend your own beliefs or do you yearn to see the world as clearly as you possibly can?”

And I ask: Are you a “soldier” or are you a “scout?”

Impasse: A Problem Or An Opportunity?

If you have ever played chess, checkers or dominos, you have experienced a stalemate — when neither player can successfully move any of the pieces and neither player can win. Aggravating!

Imagine two large trucks trying to pass on a narrow road. Standstill!

Watch the news and you will hear numerous examples of two politicians unable to reach agreement on a policy. Deadlock!


Another word for all of these is Impasse, which in business is essentially resistance to any workable solution — a clenched state of mind that can stifle creativity and any kind of breakthrough.

Because nothing can move forward, an impasse can be costly. Representing a failure of the ability to reach a settlement, it usually provokes anger.

There are many reasons for a stalemate, which can be caused by constraints of time, authority, scarce resources, personality styles and clashes of values as well as external factors such as politics, economics or health conflicts.

Often, impasse is a result of unmet interests (why someone wants what they want) or emotional barriers to resolution. It may simply mean that someone is not yet convinced, or there’s not enough information. Maybe it’s refusal, a threat, a dare or a bluff. Whatever the cause, it stops things dead in their tracks! The price can be high, so I offer a few tips to either prevent or break through an impasse.

Perspective taking is key

  • See the situation from all sides; go to “the balcony.”
  • Stand in the other person’s shoes.
  • What’s next? Why is that important — to you and to the other person?
  • What’s the primary outcome you desire? Define the qualities of an acceptable outcome.
  • Parties need a legitimate reason to move or change their position (what each person wants).

Tools for breaking impasse

  • Take a break; stop thinking about the problem.
  • Slow down the process; don’t press for an answer.
  • Welcome creative and unconventional ideas.

Showers and early morning mind wanderings are good.

  • Set the issue aside temporarily.
  • See the forest and the trees.
  • Focus on the future, perhaps a year from now.
  • Describe your fears of breaking the impasse, or of staying deadlocked.

There may be a legitimate reason for the impasse. But, it’s not necessarily a block to problem solving. Think of it as an opportunity for a creative solution to a vexing problem. Lean into the process and be receptive to new and unusual ideas.

Giving Constructive Criticism Artfully: Here’s How!

I recently spoke at a workshop for human resource professionals and found that a major concern remains how to criticize an employee’s performance or behavior in a constructive and respectful manner. Given the importance of the issue, I thought I would share an article that appeared in e-Talk several years ago. Its contents remain relevant, important and helpful.

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Remember that each employee is the “face” of a company, especially those who deal directly with customers and clients. Therefore, [Read more…]

When Siblings Share the Care

When was the last time you heard or said the words, “Mom liked you best?”  Hopefully, not since you were very young — or ever.

But with our population living so much longer and siblings finding themselves in the role of caring for aging parents, these “fighting” words seem to be spoken more frequently.

Warm childhood memories often emerge during the course of family caregiving, but so do old grievances and pain. Sharing the care of elderly parents can be just as difficult as sharing was when we were children growing up in the same house.

Family dynamics leave a legacy that often becomes [Read more…]

Hear, Hear!

The Lowdown On Listening

Hearing — one of the five physical senses — involves the perception of sound, pitch and volume. The fine art of listening, however, is quite another matter. The only commonality between hearing and listening is two ears. The purpose of listening is understanding, and active listening requires thoughtful attention to the meaning being conveyed. There are different modes of listening:


[Read more…]