Jim Michmerhuizen (
Fri, 24 Feb 1995 23:11:09 +0001 (EST)

On Fri, 17 Feb 1995, Michael McMaster wrote in LO145:

> Replying to LO114:
> Is it necessary to have been "wrong" to learn or to prove that learning
> has occurred? I don't think so. What about absolutely new areas of
> knowledge? What about enrichment of what went before? I suspect most
> learning is cumulative, co-evolving, inclusive of experience and
> developmental - even when major - than a matter of having been wrong.
> Ptolemaic astronomy has been replaced by better (ie. more efficient
> systems) but that doesn't make the original wrong.

Huh? It doesn't? Your points about new areas is good and right -- I'd
not noticed it, in my frenzied haste to make a reply; but I insist that
there really is such a thing as being wrong, and the experience is
salutary. It should happen more often to more of us.

> > Commenting on Stever's previous comments, Jim Michmerhuizen said: "Once
> > again, dead on. Shouldn't we measure what we've truly learned, in any
> > space of time, by the number of times we saw we were "wrong"?"
> >
> > This is my understanding of "double loop learning" as described by Argyris
> > and others. Indeed, if you are "right", you may be demonstrating prior
> > learning, but, in the instance, you have learned nothing. Those of us who
> > WANT to learn NEED to make mistakes...
> A distinction between the first and second paragraphs is one of
> temporality or time perspective. Discovering that we _were_ wrong (in the
> past) is not to say that we've learned much. And demonstrating that we
> _are_ right is not to say that we have learned nothing. Each time I
> discover a new and useful insight from what I'm working on, I valid the
> "rightness" of both past and present. (Keeping in mind the postmodern
> position that there is no "right" whatsoever, and that everything "right"
> will very likely be disproved and/or replaced at some time in the future.)

It's a _very_ long way from the latter clause to the former. I can't
make any sense of the notion that "there is no 'right' whatsoever"; that
is, I can't understand what exactly is being asserted at all. I suppose
that if I did, it would be clear that it followed from the latter clause.
Until I do, I'll deny that it does.

> I think a key is that if, looking back, we see that we _always_ were
> right, then we might suspect that we haven't been learning. This does
> imply that if we want to learn then we need to be prepared to make
> mistakes - even to make them on purpose from time to time. (Are they then
> "mistakes"?) But that does not imply that we should promote mistakes.

I like the question in parentheses, and I have an example. The first
thing I instinctively do, in familiarizing myself with a new software
package, is to "exercise" it. This is my personal euphemism for
doing as many wrong things as possible with it. I want to see the error
messages; I want to "explore the boundaries of my world", so far as those
are defined by the program I am "exercising".

> The importance of these ways of speaking, for me, is that we have to
> conduct effective dialogue with executives and managers and there are ways
> of talking which we might understand "in the club" but which will not
> assist us in engaging managers in the dialogues that we think are
> important. I don't think that we need to talk about "needing to make
> mistakes." We _will_ make mistakes if we are acting in a complex world -
> we can count on it. Its our relationship to mistakes, to knowledge, to
> truth, to right/wrong that is the problem.

There are more different kinds of people in the world than there are people...