The armour of inevitable wrongness

A person’s career is a marathon, not a sprint. It plays out over decades, rather than weeks and months. Despite that, employers still hire based on performance in arbitrary interviews, trials, processes, and mini-projects. But what other choice do they have? Sticking with the marathon example, an employer’s job is to try and pick the winners from a minuscule snapshot of the race. So is it really that wondrous that they pick the sprint starters, the ones who stand out because they’re surging ahead of the pack in the beginning?

Attempts to hire good people are just one example of a larger trend; we have to glean long term outcomes from short terms assessments. Relationships are another example. We text, talk, date, and meet each other’s friends and family, all so we can more accurately assess someone’s suitability as a partner. By putting a prospective mate through such scenarios, we hope to unveil their long term trajectory, ideally identifying the duds long before we make significant investments of time, energy and attention.

Hiring, relationships, education, wealth building, career growth; all these things require the extrapolation of long term outcomes from short term trials. We can’t change that. But is there a way to make better guesses? Can we find a way to predict with unerring accuracy? Not really.

We can analyse historical patterns and precedents. We can assess our contemporaries performance. We can try to take a measure of the shifts in cultures and technologies. We can identify, quantify and monitor as many markers as possible. We can do all that and still end up stuck. Which leaves us with one option. 

Rather than trying to increase the rightness of our assessments and gambles concerning the future, we should prepare to be wrong. We should prepare to change our minds and our allocation of resources. We should be fully aware that we won’t always choose well, that we’ll make mistakes both big and small. This acknowledgement of inevitable wrongness, whilst simple, is the only armour we can don against the multitude of future possibilities.