I Could Be Wrong, But…

Last month the Harvard Business Review had a fascinating article about how we can become more open-minded.*  In this time of major disruption we need more leaders and citizens who are willing to consider other viewpoints and be intellectually flexible.  The article’s author, Shane Snow, noted that Benjamin Franklin had a way of both preparing himself and his listener to being open-minded.  Whenever Franklin was about to make an argument, he would open with something along the lines of, “I could be wrong, but…” Snow notes that “saying this put people at ease and helped them to take disagreements less personally. But it also helped (Franklin) to psychologically prime himself to be open to new ideas.”

In today’s hyper-partisan environment, I find the need to push myself to consider other options, to consider that “I could be wrong, but…” as I make statements of (what seem to me to be) fact.

Shane Snow

Shane Snow CEO and founder of Contently photographed for Shane Snow by Christopher Lane

Snow notes that in 2016, researchers—building off the concept of “intellectual humility” from religion—outlined four ways to assess open-mindedness:

  1. Having respect for other viewpoints
  2. Not being intellectually overconfident
  3. Separating one’s ego from one’s intellect
  4. Willingness to revise one’s own viewpoint

Other researchers added a fifth trait, “’openness to experience,’ or a willingness to try new things or take in new information,” as also being important to building open-mindedness in your life.  When the author gave as an example “willingness to try new food” I thought, uh-oh.  (I’m the guy who finds what he likes for lunch at a restaurant and then orders the same thing on return visits.)  However, when I took the Intellectual Humility Assessment, I found that my openness to new experience scores were fine; however, my lowest score came in “separating your ego from your intellect.”  Well, that will certainly leave a mark…

Being open-minded does, of course, come with important boundaries.  There are times where open-mindedness can lead you astray. But in general, if you have to think about the last time you admitted you were wrong, perhaps you could use a bit more intellectual humility and openness to new experiences to exercise that open-minded muscle.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

*A similar article by the same author, Shane Snow, can be found here.

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