Admitting you’re wrong

A good engineer, like a good scientist, must at some point admit that he is wrong.  This is very difficult to do — especially for mid- and late-career engineers who are a bit set in their ways.  It is, I guess,  a pride thing.  And may older engineers have spent their whole careers building up that reputation and pride.  But what they, and their management, don’t understand is that it is important, and right, to admit when you’re wrong and that act should bolster an engineer’s reputation, not mar it.

It is those who won’t, or can’t, admit errors who are the bad engineers.  These people ignore or spin data and calculations so as to fit their view rather than accepting that the data don’t support their belief.  This is not engineering but rather wishful thinking.  Or pride gone amok.   One problem with this is that it can take years before the truth comes out.  And sometimes it never does.  This only contributes to the cognitive dissonance in the mind of such an engineer.

Granted, this path is difficult to avoid and each step down it makes it more difficult to make that jump to the right path.  But it needs to be done and I think it is a sign of character and good engineering when people correct their path that way.  Of course in our current climate this step is just an invitation for blame; probably the main reason for people staying on that wrong path.

Bad enough for the lone engineer, but real trouble comes when you have a whole organization that fosters this stance.  We have such an organization where I work and the very idea that they are not ever wrong, and cannot ever be wrong, is ingrained in the history and management of this group.  The members are smart, no doubt of that, and are highly educated engineers, but they can’t escape the corporate climate (even if they wanted to).  This, in my opinion, makes them poor engineers in a poor organization.

And if you give such an organization power, what you get are arrogant and defensive engineers who use intimidation rather than rationality when dealing with people outside their organization.  Because, you see, they now have to convince both you and themselves that they are always right.  And that is a lot harder to do without the bluster.  No matter what, this only leads to Bad Engineering.

Don’t fall into that same trap.

Suggested reading: Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)


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