When making a mistake can cement your status.

I hang out a lot on the Boardgamegeek.com forums. An interesting situation came up which made me think about expertise and authority in relationship to mistakes.

I recently had a forum conversation with a member that I used to hold in high regard. He was a very distinctive personality but I always deferred to his opinion on games. In this situation he came in and dropped an authoritative line with little explanation. When questioned, he threw off a couple trite cryptic responses. When directly challenged, he went silent.

I get the sense he wants to be respected for his ability to analyze games at their core. But in this case the best move for him would have been to just admit he made a mistake and explain how the mistake came about. We are all human, mistakes and misunderstandings happen. Even though we want to be right all the the time, we all know that just isn’t going to happen, especially in the free flowing and often confusing conversational environment that exists on the forums.

While its not easy to admit you made a mistake, the paradox is that such a moment is the perfect opportunity to cement your authority as expert. Obviously, you must be right most of the time to be considered an expert, but that’s the easy stuff. The rare moments of error are the times when you can prove you are truly secure in your expertise. This is when you prove your desire to always get the right answer over being “always right.” This is when respect is earned.

But instead, I now see this guy in a new light. I’ve always assumed his distinctive personality was a consequence of his logical approach to games, but now I wonder if its there to mask some insecurity, trying to preemptively keep people from challenging him. The internet lets you be whoever you want to be because the means of interaction are so constrained. Unfortunately we all know this, so missteps are given more weight by those around you. You can hide for only so long, who you are will leak out by your actions and inactions. You can try to maintain a facade, but we’ll wonder what’s behind the that edifice.