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A New Way to Become More Open-Minded

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Shane Snow for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.

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Benjamin Franklin knew he was smart — smarter than most of his peers — but he was also intelligent enough to understand that he couldn’t be right about everything. That’s why he said that whenever he was about to make an argument, he would open with something along the lines of, “I could be wrong, but…” Saying this put people at ease and helped them to take disagreements less personally. But it also helped him to psychologically prime himself to be open to new ideas.

History shows that we tend to choose political and business leaders who are stoic, predictable, and unflinching, but research indicates that the leadership we need is characterized by the opposite: creativity and flexibility. We need people who can be like Franklin — that is, smart and strong-willed enough to persuade people to do great things, but flexible enough to think differently, admit when they’re wrong, and adapt to dynamic conditions. Changing our methods and minds is hard, but it’s important in an era where threats of disruption are always on the horizon. In popular culture, we might call this kind of cognitive flexibility, “open-mindedness.” And with growing divisions in society, the survival of our businesses and communities may very well depend on our leaders having that flexibility — from Congress to the C-Suite.

Unfortunately, for decades academics have argued in circles about the definition of open-mindedness, and what might make a person become less or more open-minded, in part because there’s been no reliable way to measure these things. Recently, however, psychologists have given us a better way to think about open-mindedness — and quantify it.

The breakthrough happened when researchers started playing with a concept from religion called “intellectual humility.” Philosophers had been studying why some people stubbornly cling to spiritual beliefs even when presented with evidence that they should abandon them, and why others will instead quickly adopt new beliefs. Intellectual humility, the philosophers said, is the virtue that sits between those two excesses; it’s the willingness to change, plus the wisdom to know when you shouldn’t.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Shane Snow is an award-winning journalist, celebrated entrepreneur, and the bestselling author of the books Smartcuts: The Breakthrough Power of Lateral Thinking and DREAM TEAMS: Working Together Without Falling Apart, as well as the co-author of The Storytelling Edge. He is founder-at-large of the content technology company Contently, and is a board member of The Hatch Institute, a nonprofit for investigative journalism in the public interest.

 

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