Leading Blog






11.23.20

Think For Yourself

Think For Yourself

A GREAT IRONY of our time is that even as we are more informed, we are thinking less. We outsource our thinking. We rely on others to think for us. And we do almost unconsciously, by default, without thinking.

As the change around us adds complexity and an overwhelming number of choices, we naturally defer to experts to focus our attention on what matters. In Think for Yourself, Harvard University lecturer Vikram Mansharamani cautions that “by outsourcing our focus to them, we willfully let them take control over our field of vision, blind to what they leave out.” He cautions, “At the very least, we should think about, and ideally ask about what other variables might be worth considering.”

When we listen to or limit our options to the criteria of a similar set of experts, it will limit our options, filter our information, and the soundness of our decisions. When “our decision frames are set by others, and we forget to keep track of what options and factors we ignore, [we open] ourselves up to unnecessary risks and missed opportunities” and unsubstantiated fear and perspectives. When an expert focuses on their specialization, they often lose the broader perspective that has a significant bearing on the issue in question. “The key is to step back and ask: What are you losing when you narrow your option set?

Focus May Work Against Us

While focus has its place, focusing is a process of filtering out and ignoring. When we do, we miss out on some things and see more of what we are focusing on. “Focus increases confidence while clouding judgment.”

Fundamentally, the Peter Principle is about focus. It’s about how managers tend to focus too much on how a person is doing in their current job as the means through which to evaluate their potential for their next job. But when you stop to think about it, that doesn’t make a ton of sense. Evaluation criteria should be based on future roles. It may mean that some people who are performing poorly in their current position may blossom if promoted.

We’ve heard it said that the cure is worse than the disease. “By focusing intensely in one domain, we often fail to see how our actions may create the very problem we are seeking to avoid. We need to step back, zoom out, and look at the whole system rather than just its parts. The sad reality is that many of our supposed solutions are compounding the problems.”

The bottom line is that we are all dependent on others to some extent; it’s a fact of modern life. But this dependence need not translate into blind obedience. As we turn to those who can help, we must remember their limitations and appreciate other perspectives.

Triangulate Perspectives

We need to take the time to gather other perspectives—to triangulate unique points of view. A perspective is, by definition, incomplete. Each has its limitations. We owe it to ourselves to get several points of view to expand our context.

On a personal level, empathizing and seeing your circumstances in a bigger context can be useful. It’s helped dampen my exuberance when I’m on top of the world, and also boosted my spirits during tough times.

Having a broader context on your own perspective is critical in uncertain times. In navigating uncertainty, Mansharamani reminds us that “probing, sensing, and responding are key activities. It’s a dot-connecting exercise, not a dot-generating one.

Experts are among the least successful predictors in times of massive uncertainty. They often think they know more than they actually do and therefore exhibit more confidence than is warranted. Hubris tends to affect their objectivity, particularly when they become the go-to thinkers to help others who by definition are admittedly confused. The result: a significant number of very visible expert predictions have gone embarrassingly wrong…. It was often developments outside of their domain that derailed their predictions.

Experts are more reliable in complicated environments and where there is a clear cause-and-effect relationship.

Mansharamani says we need to “come up with a new way to engage experts.” To begin, we need to “abandon our devotion to depth and reintroduce a greater focus on breadth.”

Economist Noreena Hertz said in a 2010 TED Talk:

We’ve become addicted to experts. We’ve become addicted to their certainty, their assuredness, their definitiveness, and in the process, we’ve ceded our responsibility, substituting our intellect and our intelligence for their supposed words of wisdom. We’ve surrendered our power, trading off our discomfort with uncertainty for the illusion that they provide.

Navigating uncertainty requires that we learn to triangulate unique points of view and connect the dots. “It takes an independent, external, and less-focused perspective to connect the dots in a conclusive way.” Rather than going out and getting a “second first opinion, we need to get “a true, unadulterated, independent second opinion.”

We can help ourselves by exposing ourselves to different points of view and experiences and becoming perpetually curious rather than accepting a single perspective. “The idea of being broad enough to contextualize information is critical; it helps to generate awareness that there are those who know more than we do and allow us to place the inputs of experts and specialists in perspective.”

The future belongs to those who can think for themselves.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:50 PM
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