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Nothing is more important than developing the ability to learn and understand new things that enable you to change.
If you can change your future is open. If you are incapable of change your future is closed.
This is an old question, "To be or not to be."
It's become clear to me that we are far from becoming a knowledge society. Our access to the internet, has exposed us as an anti-knowledge society. Thomas S Kuhn, understood the strange inability to learn that afflicts society, even the scientific community. In his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions he explains why typical scientists are not objective and rational independent thinkers. They are problem solvers, they seek to discover what they already know. They learn to deny or ignore contrary information that would seriously challenge the existing paradigm. They work inside a social and professional "box" and essentially the future is closed.
Just like the rest of us, scientist are human too. They like their hard won ideas, they want to confirm what they already know. They are reluctant to learn new things if that demands giving up a long held point of view. Most experienced scientists are too deeply indoctrinated and engaged with the old paradigm to change how they think. It's usually young scientists who have not yet developed a way of understanding their discipline who are able to carry forward new paradigms.
I understand where Kuhn is coming from. To a large extent we all suffer from educational and cultural blindness. You can see this in the entrenched views of politicians and leaders of all kinds as paraded across the news media. Their slogans say nothing, and their arguments depend on the practiced inability to listen to and understand what other people are saying. We do live in an anti-knowledge society.
If society is entrenched in a state of knowledge denial, that doesn't force you to adopt that same stance. However, you do need to work hard to break the chains that make you a slave to your own existing paradigms. We can try to live in an expanding and developing "box". We can give ourselves permission to learn new things and to change our minds when necessary. We can allow ourselves to ask more questions and be content to have fewer answers.
When was the last time you changed your mind on any important issue because somebody wrote a sound argument and presented you with good evidence that your own view was wrong.
That's right, it never happened.
Yet you do have experience of changing your mind, it is possible to learn new things that are contrary to what you once believed. But you don't do that as the result of the "evidence" alone. Information alone is never convincing, although it may be disturbing. We can learn, but we learn from what we do, not from what people tell us. We can learn, but it takes time. Sometimes you have to dismantle your old idea before you can appreciate how to build a new and better one.
To the extent that we are unable to change our own ideas, even when faced with good evidence, we make a trap for ourselves. We are often slaves to our membership loyalties. We cannot see what we don't want to know. Fifty years ago we might have been able to get away with that, but in a modern world we run the danger of just looking stupid and ignorant.
While the membership of our profession, political party or religious sect may demand certain things of us, living a real life in a modern world is likely to demand something else. Future proofing your life demands of you the ability to break the chains that bind you to some narrow restricted past vision of who you are. We can't be both unswervingly loyal to existing memberships and at the same time be a growing learning and developing person with a global viewpoint. In a modern global world we have to develop a capacity to become new people. If we can't change our minds in the face of evidence, then we need to find other methods that will allow us to learn from the present.
Topics that are important to us, that raise our passions and engage our energy are the ones that threaten our status as members. Unfortunately we are so closely engaged with such issues that any foolish or irrational position we take will be invisible to us. When we feel that some person or group is threatening a value we hold dear, we respond with vigour. That strong reaction confirms who I am and reinforces my membership. It's likely also to reinforce my own entrenched ideas.
I can identify several issues that engage strong responses; capital punishment, attitudes to Israel, gun laws in the USA, racial divisions, conflict between religious sects, conflict between first peoples and the dominant population, conflict between the political class and ordinary people. You can see these issues explode on lists and in discussion forums. It was quiet and normal and then suddenly there's a battle going on. A battle with no winners and where nobody seems to learn anything. At least those fighting the battle learn nothing. That need not be so for onlookers.
Professor Graham Nuthall of the University of Canterbury tells us that we learn from what we do, not from what we are told. How can we learn? Those in the thick of a hot debate are learning to be loyal to their present membership status. Try as they might, they don't read with comprehension and they choose not to understand what the other side is saying. The battle rages but there is no communication going on. In contrast an observer is in a better position to see that both sides are entrenched and to appreciate that there may be other ways to look at the situation. You might even produce alternative ideas, but don't expect anyone to be listening. The value of seeing the futility of the debate is in seeing how blind both sides can be. (These silly debates are always framed as a two sided event with clear right and wrong.) Both sides create a position that is impervious to any new data. They can't learn from anything that's said. But the interested observer is able to learn if he or she seeks to actively understand what's happening.
Given my broad understanding of a situation that is not on my patch, when faced with an issue which does engage me, I may recognise the merit of a good challenge to my own narrow view. That's a start. I have to unlock the door to knowledge for myself. Once I create a mind space for not knowing, I can begin to learn. There can be no learning if I already know the answers.
Allow the vague idea that you don't understand to guide your search for a better understanding. Then give yourself time. Changing your mind takes a lot of time. Maybe ten years, and for all that time you may be unsure what you believe. But the journey is worth it. While you insist on always knowing the answers such a journey can't even begin.
I expect that on this sort of journey you will learn three principles that are generally useful.
1. - There are never only two ways to look at any complex issue. Once you realize there are three, four, five or more viewpoints, you soon become very disenchanted with any two sided non-debate like the media and political parties usually offer us.
2. - Each way of seeing the issue has it's own set of valid facts. What's valid or important to each of the interested parties depends on the memberships they hold and on the common they are seeking to protect. Each of these positions is based on knowing some things and on refusing to acknowledge other things that are also valid. We choose "what we know" and we also choose (at least in the long run) "what not to know."
3. - There are often several valid bases from which you can understand the problem. Each of those claims to be the single leg that supports the table, but in fact the table has several legs each of them a strong and valid leg. All of them support the table. Arguing about which leg is superior is a foolishness. To stop yourself arguing from the narrow position of a single leg you need to learn how to view the situation from a wider perspective. Knowledge of other countries, or other people and of other situations helps you to live in a larger box, and gives you more alternatives.
One of the traditional ways to open up your thinking about a business is to conduct a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It's actually quite hard to do this alone. Here is an online tool from Management Study Guide, designed to help you do a SWOT analysis. The key benefit is in the opportunity to open discussion with your advisers.
Creating an Open Future© is our challenge. Can we change what we think? Can we change how we behave? Of course we can, but we need to engage in that process. To do that we must ask questions that we cannot readily answer. We must let the exploration for even better questions and and more elegant answers lead our inquiry. In the process we will learn our future.
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