Purposefully doing things extremely wrong provides us with a lot more information

Tuesday, June 27th, 2023

In a recent study, Arizona State University professor Rob Gray trained casual baseball player to hit a baseball the right way or the wrong way:

One group — the “right way” group — practiced hitting the ball the correct way. Their instructions were to “hit a hard line drive into fair play.”

And during their training sessions, a coach would observe and give them feedback on their technique and mechanics. And provide suggestions on how to improve their performance.

The “wrong way” group on the other hand, received no technical instructions and no corrective feedback during their training sessions.

And their hitting instructions changed from one training session to the next.

One week they were asked to “hit the ball as far to the right as possible.” Another week they were asked to “hit the ball as far to the left as possible.” Then they were asked to “try to pop the ball up in the air.” And then to “try to drive the ball into the ground.”

They were also asked to “hit a hard line drive into fair play” in one of their practice sessions, just like the right way group. But in five of their six practice sessions, they were asked to practice hitting the ball all the wrong ways.


Well, as you would expect, the right way group that got coaching and practiced hitting into fair play improved their hitting in several key areas.

Their batting average improved, they struck out less often, and they hit more doubles/triples/home runs than they did in their initial test too.

But the wrong way group, which spent 5/6th of their time practicing hitting balls into foul territory, and other undesirable hits also improved their batting average, strikeout percentage, and slugging percentage.

And they not only improved in these areas, but improved by a lot more than the right way group did!


The value lies in learning how to achieve specific undesirable outcomes, on purpose, with some consistency. Because it seems that purposefully doing things extremely wrong provides us with a lot more information about how to do things correctly, than trying to do things correctly and accidentally getting it slightly wrong.


  1. Grasspunk says:

    The only lesson I teach my kids when they learn how to drive on the farm is how to use the clutch. This research makes me think the most important part of the lesson is near the beginning when I ask them to deliberately stall to get a feel for it. My motivation was to have them avoid panicking when it happens but now I’m wondering if other benefits are more important.

    Note: this is a pickup truck in a large field. After lesson one they are free to teach themselves anything they want. They’re well motivated because they use the truck to carry chicken feed and it is less work than shouldering 25kg/55lb bags. As you would expect under French law, when they get older they need conventional lessons in order to drive on the street.

  2. Phil B says:

    As a project engineer, my strong belief is that you learn a lot more from a bad project where everything goes wrong than one where it proceeds without a glitch. Learning to recover from the mistakes and solving the problems encountered develops your skills far more quickly than a series of “no problem” projects.

  3. Wang Wei Lin says:

    Anything worth doing well is worth doing wrong until you learn to do it right.

  4. Shadeburst says:

    In that case Joe Biden must be the best informed person in the world, closely followed natch by Bad Vlad, BoJo and local hero Cyril Ramaphosa.

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