The Wrongologist


Author Kathryn Schulz recently provided a newspaper exposition of some of the themes of her new book, Being Wrong, Adventures in the Margin of Error. As noted on her website, Kathryn has “a credible (if not necessarily enviable) claim to being the world’s leading wrongologist.”

She finds fault in the way we find fault in ourselves. “Misunderstanding our mistakes . . . — seeing them as evidence of flaws and an indictment of our overall worth — exacts a steep toll on us. . . . [I]t impedes our efforts to prevent errors in domains, such as medicine and aviation, where we truly cannot afford to get things wrong.”

The book is engaging and thought-provoking.

Kathryn uses our wrong-side surgery experience at BIDMC as an uncommon example of using error to improve things, particularly when an aggressive target for error reduction has been established and when a commitment to transparency has been adopted.

She notes, “If you really want to be right (or at least improve the odds of being right) you have to start by acknowledging your fallibility, deliberately seeking out your mistakes, and figuring out what caused you to make them.”

(Bostonians can hear Kathryn in a reading this Friday evening at the Harvard Book Store.)

Paul Levy is the President and CEO of Beth Israel Deconess Medical Center in Boston. Paul recently became the focus of much media attention when he decided to publish infection rates at his hospital, despite the fact that under Massachusetts law he is not yet required to do so. For the past three years he has blogged about his experiences in an online journal, Running a Hospital, one of the few blogs we know of maintained by a senior hospital executive.

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3 replies »

  1. Thanks a lot for sharing this with all folks you really realize what you are speaking approximately! Bookmarked. Please also consult with my site =). We will have a link exchange contract among us

  2. At the end of the day, aren’t many of us really ‘performing’ for mommy and/or daddy’s approval? Dress it up as you may, acquiring stuff, titles, money, property and/or prestige, is often about defending against childhood pain rooted in family scripts valuing fear based, command and control parenting vs. the chaos of unconditional love. After all God’s (or your higher power, or great spirit as the case may be) love can’t come as an entitlement or inheritance! It must be earned, right? To assume we are perfect in our many imperfections is just too simple (and perhaps lazy) a formula for many who must ‘do, to be’, i.e., I am only as good as my current business card, or car I drive or house I live in. Where is Jerry Jampolsky’s courage these days, you know the ‘love is letting go of fear’ guy?
    Thanks for the book (I will pick up a copy), it so resonates with the ego driven, silo cultures that too often infect health care institutions. Looking good, vs. striving towards an authentic culture of collaboration, wherein both excellence as well as owning one’s wake, seems to be the predominant currency valued in many of our health care institutions.
    Just sayin’.

  3. Hurrah for a plug of inductive reasonsing, and what a fascinating article: I’m going to have to find this book now. I am so glad someone has the courage to acknowledge that mistakes are part of life. Too often when we get in a crisis, the first thing everyone wants to do is find out “Who did this?” As if all errors are the result of one bad person/organization.
    Sometimes, despite best efforts, bad things happen. If we would focus more on finding out what resulted in the fallability (rather than getting our tar, feather, and pitchforks ready), we might actually find ways to improve things in the future.