The Mark of Educated (and Product) Minds
A quick update: I’ll be speaking next week at Product-Led World in Las Vegas. I’ll be doing a panel on innovation and a main stage talk about Product Principles. If you can break away for a couple days, you should join us for a great in-person event. If you miss it, I will work to get some videos posted afterward.
How to Cultivate An Open Mind
In my high school, above the biology classroom door, hung the quote below:
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it
It’s mis-attributed to Aristotle, but the value of the idea is still important. It was an especially important idea learning biology in an ultra-conservative community. Utah has slowly changed over time, but as with most highly religious places, certain scientific ideas, like the idea of evolution, are frowned upon.
I can remember sermons (we call them “talks” in the LDS church) from my youth blasting the idea of evolution. I can remember sermons from very, very recently saying similar things, so maybe the change has been extra slow…
Regardless, our high school biology teachers wanted to remind everyone to be able to entertain ideas without necessarily accepting them. Fortunately, that wasn’t too difficult for me, and has been something I’ve tried to do prior to and since then.
Evolution is a pretty easy one when it comes down to it. Once you understand the science, it’s difficult not to accept some idea of evolution. But sometimes it takes keeping an open mind considering your surroundings or culture.
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Checking Your Confidence
It is easy to become confident in a specific worldview. But anytime I feel extremely confident in my view, I realize that is a good time to reassess. Especially if someone presents something contrary.
In a previous company, I worked with someone who explored paranormal activity. They were an active ghost hunter. They would visit sites where others had encountered activity, and then use a variety of tools, including video and audio recorders, EMF meters, motion sensors, thermometers, etc., to check for ghosts.
When they initially told me about it, my initial gut reaction was to roll my eyes and think, “what a waste of time.” But thankfully my next reaction was, “that’s really interesting, I need to learn more about that.”
I had never considered ghost hunting to be a thing. I don’t think there is a high probability of ghosts, but I also can’t say that it’s a zero probability either. So I took the time to learn more about it from someone who believes in ghost hunting, and who could help me become more informed. Rather than simply shutting down the possibility in my mind, I’m open to the idea, even if I’m not ready to grab a bag of equipment and head out to hunt them myself just yet.
I recently had a guest on my podcast who is a business and life coach. He also does hypnosis, which we talked about right at the end. When he mentioned that, my initial reaction was “that sounds sketchy.” But my better self quickly corrected, and I realized, “I don’t actually know that much about hypnosis.”
Like ghost hunting, I lean skeptical, but realized that there’s more to it for many people than I realized, and I can keep a more open mind to that.
Not every idea is worth adopting, either in your life or in your work. But you can’t know that until you consider it. When we dismiss ideas or challenges to our assumptions out-of-hand, we miss the opportunity to learn and grow, strengthening our existing knowledge or replacing our current beliefs with better ones.
So how can we become more open-minded?
Pause and Reflect
Whenever someone presents something new to me, my initial reaction almost always is, “that’s interesting.” It’s not patronizing, but a genuine response as I pause and reflect.
It’s often useful to set aside some time to be able to do this. We live in such a fast-paced world. We need to guard our time to have the ability to reflect, as I wrote about previously in Guarding Your Time.
Lifehack agrees. In an article, one of the first pieces of advice they give is to slow down:
If you really want to access new ways of thinking and being, you can’t be in a hurry. Opening up your mind requires you to take a pause. It requires you to be intentional about seeking new information/data/possibilities beyond your own instincts.
Once you’ve had a chance to reflect, do some research and investigation. What else can you learn about ghost hunting, hypnosis, evolution, etc? Take a break from doom scrolling and explore some topics that you hadn’t considered or that challenge your current worldview.
Often this can take the form of questions. I wrote about the 5 Whys framework in a previous post, and how it is a useful model for our teams and our own curiosity—never settling for the first answer we come to.
According to NPR, curiosity is one of the key steps to open-mindedness:
Be curious. This sounds easy, but it's not. It requires an active choice when you encounter something you didn't know, or that doesn't match your worldview. "Do I just assume this is something I already knew? Do I assume that something bad has happened and I need to be afraid and hide? Or do I want to be curious and explore?" asks Charan Ranganath, the director of the Dynamic Memory Lab at UC Davis. Making that final choice isn't always easy, but it's the first step toward being open-minded.
Once you’ve reflected and researched, it’s time to integrate. That may mean tossing out some old ideas or it may mean fitting old ideas with new. I wrote about the ability to do this in another post: Ritual Cats. How often we end up with rituals (or beliefs) that we need reassess.
How does evolution fit with religion? How do ghosts fit into our modern world? Or how does it all fit into your new worldview? Let that all stew as you create a new conglomeration of ideas.
According to Verywellmind, this can vary from easy to difficult:
Sometimes new information requires rethinking the things you thought you knew. It requires reevaluating your memories and past experiences in light of what you’ve learned.
In order to do this, you have to be able to set aside your judgments, take a serious look at the existing evidence, and admit that you were wrong. That process can be difficult, confusing, and sometimes painful or life-changing. It takes a lot of mental effort, but you can train your brain to be more open-minded.
Extreme open-mindedness is the mark of great thinkers, especially great product thinkers. We are never done taking inputs and creating something new. The world is ever changing, ever evolving, and we must evolve with it. Our products must evolve with it. Our thinking must evolve with it. We cannot close our minds to what is around us, to the new ideas that surround us, and the possibilities that await. So keep your mind open, and go create.