Smiling faces of The ID Crowd

Why letting people 'be wrong' could be the right thing to do

Published on November 10 2021 By Ali Killaly

A discussion with the Crowd on why there are better ways to drive change than telling learners that they're wrong.

It starts with my husband listing fruits - "Banana, apricot, kiwifruit, guava..."

We’re making dinner and I know precisely where that smug tone of his is headed. He’s making his way round to the glorious pineapple and the eternally polarising debate we (and everyone else) have about its place on pizza. Let me clarify my position: I’m pro.

“You have no concept of the art and science of balancing flavour!” I shout say to him in a calm and reasonable voice. 

“You’re wrong.”

We both assume we’re in the objective, factual and righteous corner. In fact, don’t people generally assume this position? Whether it’s vaccinations, politics, dogs versus cats, to fold or to scrunch (jog on, you sick, twisted scrunchers!). 

This idea is a thread we keep pulling on at The ID Crowd. We want to craft learning that drives meaningful change. But do people want to change when you tell them they’re wrong?

It cropped up again when the team got together for our monthly Crowd Showcase, a session where the delivery teams walk everyone through their completed projects and we all look under the hood and ask lots of questions. In this particular session, we were exploring some anti-discrimination training where the client specifically did not want the learner to be told they were wrong. Curiouser and curiouser! 

Here's where I’m going to sneak you in the side door and share a slice of our delicious discussion about being wrong. I think you’ll enjoy it with or without pineapple.

We start by talking about the black and white of some topics, like technical training. In cases where you need to cut the red wire and not the blue wire, there needs to be an incorrect answer. We all agree, and we separate those out and put them to the side. 

Okay great, but what about when it's nuanced? What happens when learning seeks to change behaviours that are tied to our beliefs? 

Lee, our tech wizard and COO puts it nicely when he points out that “our ultimate goal is not to tell someone that they are right or wrong, it’s to change behaviour. And any behaviour that is tied to a belief is tricky because our identity is tied up with that belief.” 

Jason, all-round learning design legend, wants to talk about the psychological effect. He recalls one of the 1,567,352 brilliant things he has read, this one is about the backfire effect. “We want to hold on to our beliefs so if someone challenges them directly, we hold onto them even tighter.” 

And the backfire effect means the same part of your brain reacts whether it's an intellectual threat or a physical threat. Great, now we’re getting into the juicy stuff. 

“It’s so valuable to give learners the chance to contemplate why something might be wrong, rather than just tell them,” Nick Petch, our sage Head of Learning Innovation muses.

Jade, one of our talented LDs and the crafter of this particularly crafty piece is nodding her head, “Yes, and with this piece, we share statistics to show learners how their peers view the topic. That way, if their response doesn't align with the group, they get the chance to reflect and ask themselves why that might be the case.”

A nice little bit of influencer marketing there, Jade 👑. 

“Where’s the line between giving someone room to reflect, and then the moral position of right and wrong though?”

That’s Melanie, our Art Director asking one of her remarkably incisive questions. Touché Melanie, too-shay! Amanda, one of our esteemed learning designers, looks like she wants to stand on her chair and fist pump. She doesn’t.

Nic, our founder and CEO, is starting to fizz with excitement, she’s itching to blow up compliance training altogether. “Don’t people ultimately know when they’re doing the wrong thing though? If they do know, and still continue that behaviour, then it becomes less about right and wrong and more about the thing that blocks them from making a change.”

So. Many. Nods.


We're moving into solutions mode now.

How can we drive more meaningful change without relying on right and wrong?

Here’s what we came up with (including some gold from the introverts who shared their thoughts offline):

  1. Don’t let the tools dictate

    Depending on the tool you’re using, you can’t always turn off the correct and incorrect feedback but we shouldn’t be trapped by that limitation. We often look for ways to make it more reflective. So in summary: we control the tools, not the other way around.

  2. First comes policy, then comes learning

    Learning can't do it all - amirite? There needs to be a really solid policy in place from the start if you want to change behaviour. An organisation needs to know the way in order to show what they want from their people. That's where you start. Trying to do it with learning first is the tail wagging the dog. 

  3. Tell stories

    The Crowd is so enamoured with stories that we've got a slack channel dedicated to sharing our favourites. We also know that stories are a key mechanism to encourage empathy and emotional buy-in. Jane Goodall knows what's up. She says "You’ve just got to be calm, and tell stories and try and get people to change from within."

  4. Get nudgin'

    Not to be confused with a shove, Nudge Theory allows you to help people help themselves by using prompts and positive reinforcement. If it's a new concept to you, have a google - but if you've ever used a fitness app then you know what we're talking about!

  5. Be curious

    Find out why the learner thinks the way they do. Ask lots of questions. Really, go in there with genuine curiosity. It's good for so many reasons, but in this context, both parties have the chance to learn, reflect and understand one other.

  6. Empower the learner

    Allow learners to take charge of their own growth. As our friend Emma Weber from Lever, Transfer of Learning says "People won't change unless they want to." It's on us as the crafters to create opportunities for this to happen. More like an invitation, less like a summons.

  7. Allow for the possibility that the learner is right, and you're wrong

    Life advice, as much as it is learning advice.

This isn't an exhaustive list, but geez, it's some remarkable fruit for forty minutes of labour 🍍 - imagine what we could do in an hour?

If you haven't met the Crowd yet, we'd love to say hello. Head on over here and we'll introduce ourselves.