Be foolish, be hungry, extolled Steve Jobs in his Stanford University 2005 Commencement speech, because that’s the way you can discover your true passion and break through your limits. But so many of us seems to be unable to do just that. In fact, as we are going older, our ability to learn and accept new things seems to diminish. We are stuck in our old preconception, and when our conviction is being challenged, we just dig it in and fortify our position.
The stubbornness causes us some serious IQ points, and can handicap our career growth and of course, contribute much to the bickering, disagreement and all the cacophonies in the world. How can we be more open minded in order to put harmony back to the universe, restore our IQ and catapult our career growth?
So here comes a book, “Think Again“, by an organizational psychologist at Wharton, Adam Grant, that teaches us how to do just that so that we will not get stuck in anachronism, and how to persuade others too so that
they are saved from their stray paths they also reap the benefits of it.
The very first step of being open minded is to ditch the 3P’s hat– Preacher’s hat, Prosecutor’s hat and Politician’s hat, and put on our scientist’s hat. When our ideas are challenged, we don’t need to rush to defend them, or go all out attacking the competing ideas. Instead we should let the curiosity in us take over; we pause to ask ourselves ( and the other party) what evidence would change our mind? If the answer is a dry cut NO, then we are pretty sure that we are not being opened minded enough; beware of slipping back into the old 3P’s hat!
Like a scientist, we should celebrate when we were proven wrong. Of course it’s not really because we enjoy that– no one likes the humiliating feeling of being proven wrong, but because we learn something new. The hallmark of an extremely transparent and humble scientist is that if you are not embarrassed by the opinions you held one year ago, then you are not learning enough and growing enough. Having such a mentality will enable us accept new ideas, as now we are no longer tying our identity with our opinion. In fact, the most effective leaders are “confidently humble”, meaning they are confident in their ability, and they are opened to opposite ideas as long as they are supported by evidence. Their faith in their own ability is not related at all to the opinion they hold.
OK, enough about us, what about others? How to convince others to change their laughable wrong opinion?
The very first rule of opening up other’s mind is simply just stop trying, because the moment you are so convinced of your own righteousness and you want to pass your conviction to others, you are already putting on your 3P’s hat and you are turning people– especially skeptics–off. Instead, ask your opponents and yourself this question: what evidence is required to change your mind? Give him pause, let him think. Even if you are 1000% sure that you are right, you still can’t shovel your opinion down the opponent’s throat. Leave the decision to him. If he still decides to go the other way, respect him. That’s how one can be more persuasive, by being less dogmatic and more respectful.
If you must persuade him via reasoning and arguments and bullet points, you should present him a short list with only the most compelling points instead of a long one with all the most compelling ones plus the not so compelling ones. The skeptic will just take on your list and focus on weakest point to argue against, and declare himself a winner, while completely ignoring your strongest points.
Research shows that presenting a spectrum, instead of a binary of opinions could help to sway opinion somewhat. Freely admit that middle ground exists and so does ambiguity could also soften the heart. This is just the way human psychology works: when you show that even your experts admit uncertainty, it surprises people, and they end up paying more attention to the substance of the arguments.
But if Think Again is so good in theory, why is it so scarce in practice?
First, while being open minded is a great virtue, and may really help us attaining new heights in career or family lives, there is a good reason our political spectrum is dictated by loud and unyielding binaries. It’s not really that the leaders on both sides are not willing to open up their minds, but because they have to cater to their demographics. Now the interaction between the voter’s base and the leaders is dynamic and mutually reinforcing. But in order to get elected, you have to appear more hardcore and extreme than other candidates, which is why it’s the most uncompromising candidates who are most frequently rising to the top. The rise of unbending leaders in turn incite the followers follow the “one true path” more resolutely, and hence the vicious cycle. Of course, the existence of loop reinforcers like Facebook newsfeed algorithms only strengthen the echo chambers. Ironically, it’s much more easier to get polarized in the age of Internet where the information is freely accessible, because you can easily find the information to support your position.
The fortification of one extreme gives rise to another. Our enemy is increasing stubborn and unrepentant, so we therefore must go all out to ANNIHILATE THEM! No mercies.
Similar dynamics also happen at cooperate world. A leader must be perceived as someone who is resolute, “has a clear vision” to bring the company forward. Changing your opinion too frequently just indicates that you are fickle minded, a trait very unhelpful in rallying your troop. How can you inspire to lead an army into battle zone if you are changing your minds every once a while, depending on whatever fad that is blowing? As a leader, you must decide whatever the current wind is really the future, or just a passing breeze. Should I invest in blockchain technology? Should I invest in Big Data AI? Often without the benefits of hindsight you won’t be able to tell, and a lot of times leaders are just taking the steps of faith AKA trying out the luck AKA gambling. Gambling it right and people will hail you as a genius and books will be written about you, gambling it wrong… no one will remember you. Surely the business world is replete with survivor’s bias where we sing the hero songs of the leaders who bet it right ( and we call them flexible and open minded) and we just forget the equally brave, smart and capable leaders who unfortunately bet it wrong. The difference between the heroes and the villain is often just the pure dumb luck. This is the classic survivor’s bias in action.
Furthermore, most companies can’t simply change its core strength on a moment’s notice to heed the new siren calls of the leaders. It takes years for the companies to find a market segment and tune its production and marketing might to corner the segment. The speed of a leader Think Again is severely limited by the company’s inertia. Those leaders who ignore this fundamental law of Speed of Change will be punished. The failure of Wang Anshi reform during Dynasty Song (王安石变法) is just such a stern reminder.
We can’t control how other people think, we can only control ourselves. If you feel that you are already flexible enough, open minded enough, but your breakthrough hasn’t come precisely because of other people’s or the environment’s fault— they are not open minded enough, it’s always good to understand why they are being so. This sums up my feeling upon finish reading Think Again.