When given the choice, our natural inclination is to seek out information that confirms our own beliefs, expertise or intentions – rather than searching out information to that may challenge them.
The extent of this propensity was captured in a study that asked politically diverse and well-educated adults to read arguments confirming their beliefs about controversial issues. “When participants were then given a chance to get paid if they read contrary arguments, two-thirds decided they would rather not even look at the counter arguments, never mind seriously entertain them.“
We see the framework of that study playing out in real life – not just between opposing parties but also increasingly within them. This stifles opportunity to make progress and address future challenges.
Philip Tetlock who runs the Good Judgment Project, a consultancy with unparalleled forecasting success, concluded that the best forecasters are high in active open mindedness. They don’t “merely consider contrary ideas, they proactively cross disciplines looking for them."
Ray Dalio – the billionaire investor, hedge fund manager, and philanthropist – holds the idea of “radical open mindedness” as one of his core principles for success. He defines it as “the ability to effectively explore different points of view and different possibilities…It requires you to replace your attachment to always being right with the joy of learning what’s true”
I must admit, I talk a good game about being open-minded but in practice I often fall short. I have deeply held convictions on many topics. While I think I at least try to be inquisitive and curious, I’m not actively going out there and as Epstein says “seeing my own ideas as hypotheses in need of testing.”
Beyond my own behavior is the question of how to best instill active open-mindedness in my children. On one hand I want them to be fierce advocates for themselves and the things they believe in, yet increasingly I see the need for them to not be so firm and inflexible in their arguments -- especially with their parents.
Ending these arguments with “because I said so” isn't going to help my relationship with them any more than it would those between our political leaders.
My hypothesis is that we need to ask better questions, be more patient and learn more about how the mind works. But I’m open to other suggestions. So feel free to share any ideas you might have for how to be more actively open-minded – whether that be in the field of politics or parenting, or anything in between.
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