When I first got into the training and consulting business I really believed that it was critical that I demonstrate an exceedingly high level of competence and a strong confidence in my ideas. Often times when a client felt that I was wrong, I would argue with them and defend my position with vigor in an attempt to prove that I was right and they were wrong. Then one day I had an epiphany…

I was not right.
Actually, I am never right.

The truth is there are often multiple right answers. My ideas are based purely on my opinion and every person in my classes has a right to their opinion too. Each of them has a unique background, with unique experiences and they have seen, read, and learned all kinds of things I have never been exposed to. No matter what my answer is to a question, it is extremely rare that my answer is the only right answer.

As soon as I realized that, everything became easy.

I no longer had to defend, argue, persuade, or attempt to prove that I was right – because I knew I wasn’t. Sure, I’ve had a lot of business experience, read thousands of books, worked in hundreds of different companies all over the world – but still, at the end of the day, I’m just giving a thoughtful guess as to what I think the answer might be. I could be completely wrong, I have been several times in the past, and I will be several times in the future. However, there’s also a very good chance that I will be right, or at least my idea will work well, perhaps as well or better than other people’s ideas.

Adopting this position allows me to be fearless because it is impossible for me to fail.

I offer my opinion, I give some feedback, I suggest the very best ideas I can possibly think of, and then is up to the other person if they want to accept my idea or reject it. It’s just an idea. If they hate it, that does not matter at all, they are perfectly welcome to think that my idea is terrible. But here’s the most important point: that doesn’t mean I’m terrible or stupid or incompetent, it just means they didn’t like my idea. Big deal.

Luckily, the people that hire me are typically inclined to be interested in my ideas and most often think they are pretty good and even sometimes excellent. Again, that’s nice, but it doesn’t crush my soul if someone feels I’m completely off-base and have no idea what I’m talking about.

It’s just an idea…big deal.

I look forward to your thoughts – do you think I’m right?

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  1. You may be right……….however when taken into context of the statement in general, too many “cooks in the kitchen…..spill the soup!” Comes to mind. The ability to make a decision also affects the stance of an opinion. So while knowing that there are more than one way to “skin a cat” when producing collaborative ideas to a problem, but you must choose when to accept them and take a firm stance. No one person knows any right answer to a problem, as much as we want to believe so. You must however, take all ideas into account no matter how obscure from your point of view it seems. Only then will your goals mean the ability to move forward for the common good.

    Do you think I am also right?

    Good post….:)

    Darren Hokanson

  2. John, you are correct. There are often many answers to a single question.
    The most important part I have learned over the years is the difference between the right answer and the BEST answer. Actually, the more “answers” you collect, the higher the probability of finding the “best” answer. More often than not, a unilateral decision is probably not the “best” decision.
    Great post!

  3. Right on! It is easy to tie personality to ideas as we own it and want to be right, however, if, as you mention, can realize that it is not personal then real success, collaboration, and best answers can be achieved.

    I also like seeing the Continuous Improvement concept here as well. Plan it, Do it, Check it, Adjust it…minor adjustments will take a good idea and turn it into something great if put into action and improved.

    Great read as usual!


  4. Thank you John for a the best article for the start of the new year. You absolutely smashed it . You have hit the nail straight. When I need a little help or push you always come with something great. I believe that many senior managers will read it and take it seriously. There would be more happier businesses. I am sure you are completely right in this case.

  5. Hi, John,
    I agree with this as well. Years ago, I adopted a motto that “everything’s a draft”. It’s very liberating to let go of attachments to ideas and consider that the next time I evaluate an idea or thought or opinion about something, that if I look at it as a draft – not the finished product – it’s much easier to accept changes. If everything is a draft, it also makes it easier to accept input from others since I’m accustomed to sending a draft around for input from my team.

    Thanks again for a perceptive article and Happy New Year!

  6. I love this John. You are spot on. This realization removed so much stress and duress from my own life. The only additional consideration in this concept is if my idea is not right by some variable, it is only my opinion, albeit at times a good one, how do I charge for that? For me to charge a client for my idea, I feel it necessary to provide methods of measuring the results of using my idea, or product, which my idea is when I sell it.

    Thanks for the reminder,


    1. Arch, you raise a you raise a great question, how do you charge for an idea? I would agree that the best course is to ensure effective implementation of your idea and then measure the results. However, if someone has hired you to offer advice and you offer them your very best ideas, you have delivered exactly what they have requested and have every right and reason to charge them for it. This is one reason I do not do much consulting anymore, I would prefer to deliver workshops and keynote speeches where I absolutely know I can deliver what the client has requested and consistently exceed their expectations. Thank you very much for your comments!!

  7. What a great first blog to check on my first day back. This is coming up my tenth year doing this full time and I so relate to what you are saying. The need to look and feel like ‘that guy or gal’ with all the answers, especially when people are paying serious money for your expertise. When we become a high priced vending machine for cool business ideas we risk being entertainers and ‘putting paint on a rusty nail’ that soon falls off.
    Also there are those times when a client’s gut overrode our precious advice and it was the best thing ever. It drives humility and I love it. In a kind of paradox it gives me even more confidence to ask the challenging questions.
    Love my work.

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