👋 Hi, I'm James.


I occasionally write about lessons learned on the journey to live a healthier, happier and more intentional life. 


📍 Austin, TX 

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  • James von der Lieth

Why 4.0 Students' Fear of Being Wrong Can Destroy Progress

Updated: Feb 27, 2020

I can spot a former 4.0 student from a mile away.

They are highly conscientious, detailed, and don’t like to go on limbs unless they know there is a high chance they will be right. If they hear the answer from an authority figure first, they are more likely to attach their name to it. Following this playbook has led them to success throughout their educational journey. This is the same playbook they bring to the professional world.

There are certain jobs that are great for 4.0 students — jobs that require checking boxes and following a highly consistent procedure. After all, the school system was built to churn out great workers for the industrial revolutions.

For example, I want my pilot, dentist, lawyer or tax accountant to be a 4.0 student.

The Education System’s Incentivizes Students to Not Be Wrong 93%+ of the Time

The school system teaches students to avoid mistakes: Don’t be wrong. Follow the rules and regurgitate what the teacher wants you to say. Be right 93%+ of the time to be considered a success. If you take risks and are only right 79% of the time, you’re a ‘dumb C student’. Forget about being right 60% of the time — you won’t even graduate.

And what does “right” even mean? Does it mean you’re great at regurgitating someone else’s viewpoint? Not disagreeing with the authority figure who is being paid 50k/year to judge you?

The education system doesn’t incentivize risk taking. It generally rewards compliance and playing it safe. This works well for some industries that require precision, but not for other industries. For example, some of the most successful VCs are right on less than 10% of their bets. If they were graded on a A-F scale, they would be a failure who was ostracized from school.

Putting a 4.0 Student in the Wrong Seat At a Company Can Destroy Progress

At some point in a company’s growth its time to bring in the 4.0 students to protect your asset by thinking from the perspective of “coverage” and “liability”. These people are all the same. They surface up every possible negative outcome just so they can be right if something ever goes wrong. Whether they realize it or not, they are often more focussed on being right than being successful. In order to be successful you have to take calculated risks.

These 4.0 student archetypes are great in the right positions where they can pick through everyone’s work but not actually own any final decisions — consultants, auditors, etc.

Even if they take a risk on their own, it probably won’t be anywhere in writing…because that’s the way they think: “How do I Cover My A** if anything goes wrong?”

Don’t get me wrong. This mindset can be useful to balance risk takers out. The problem becomes when the fear of being wrong takes over the company culture.

Large corporations are ripe for disruption when the “Fear of being wrong” 4.0 students are driving major decisions.

Startups and Creative Industries are Naturally Filled With Shades of Gray and Often Not Good Fits For 4.0 Students.

The problem with the education system’s multiple choice tests is they are black and white. Much of the the real world is shades of gray. Sometimes you need to fail or push the boundaries in order to find out the truth.

If you need 93% + chance of being right, good luck ever making a decision that goes against the crowd. Good luck standing out. Good luck making PROGRESS.

Real progress only happens when calculated risks are taken. With shades of gray, there may not be a clearcut “right” answer. In gray areas there is no authority figure giving you validation for your answers. To make progress, you have to be comfortable with the idea that you might be wrong. If not, progress isn't possible.

The fear of being wrong is the enemy of progress.

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