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Edward Harkins

Knowledge and Research Associate, SURF edward@scotregen.co.uk

In ‘Being wrong…’ journalist Schulz urges us to recognise and respect the value of error. The conscious experience of being wrong and learning from it, she argues, creates better relationships between people, neighbours, colleagues, organisations and even nations.

Schulz’s arguments may have some resonance in the U.K. regeneration field. The field is marked by the showcasing of success stories and good practice case studies – showcasing that is described as ‘learning’. It is, however, more exceptional to find examples of significant learning from mistakes and failures. How often in U.K. regeneration do we hear public admissions from policy-makers, practitioners, – or community activists – that ‘we got that badly wrong and we would not do it like that again’? What, moreover, would be the reaction, not least in our popular media, were that to occur?

Schulz sees a grace in admitting that you’re wrong about anything. This goes against the grain of much of our contemporary culture where error is seen as feared and a cause of despair. This situation limits open exchange and learning. But Schulz wants us to reverse this so that, ‘We get things wrong because we have an enduring confidence in our own minds; and we face up to that wrongness in the faith that, having learned something, we will get it right next time.’

Schulz gives insightful examples of how we deceive ourselves. This can arise from our preconceptions and prejudices – we see or conclude what we were already inclined to see or conclude. This can arise, alternatively, from our faulty memories that we much over-value. Schulz cites the case of when a group of USA students were asked for their memories of the 1986 space shuttle disaster a day after it happened and again three years later. Fewer than seven per cent of the second reports matched the first; 25 per cent were wrong in every major detail. Similar surveys after other events show similar results.

References are also made to victims of ‘confirmation bias’ or ‘group think’ or other scenarios where people hear what they want to hear and ignore inconvenient ‘counterfacts’.Yet, even Schulz, in her lengthy book, is unable to comprehensively account for why so many people persist in beliefs or activities long after the evidence has stacked up against them.

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51 - Autumn 2010

Topics include trees, water, food and the city; big cuts and the ‘Big Society’; amenities and health; the language of Jimmy Reid; and more.

Aberdeen City Council
Creative Scotland
Dundee Partnership
Glasgow City Council
GQ
Highlands and Islands Enterprise
Museums Galleries Scotland
Scottish Enterprise
Scottish Federation of Housing Associations
Scottish Gad
Scottish Government
Skills Development Scotland
Wheatley Group