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On Intellectual Humility

To be uncertain is uncomfortable but to be certain is ridiculous – Socrates

There is one trait in others I admire, in part because it is in such rare supply: Intellectually Humility. Intellectual humility is the willingness to recognise that what we think, what we believe might be wrong. It’s not about being a pushover or lacking in confidence; it’s quite the opposite. Intellectual humility is about being open and recognising; we all have cognitive blind spots and biases. However, developing this virtue is tough. Our ego has the propensity to entrap us with needing to be right at any cost. The best advice on this topic I have read comes from Warren Burger in his book, The Book of Beautiful Questions.

He suggests four killer questions to test our intellectual humility.

Question 1: Do I think more like a soldier or a scout? Soldiers defend positions scouts explore new territory.

Question 2: Would I rather be right, or would I rather understand? Long-term knowledge is far more important than a short-term victory.

Quote: “One characteristic of the truly wise man is that he can recognise the wisdom of others and is more concerned in discovering the truth in any situation than in simply defending his own opinion” – Richard Causton

Question 3: Do I seek out and solicit opposing views? Instead of saying, do you agree, say do you disagree and why.

Question 4: Do I enjoy the pleasant surprise of discovering I have been mistaken? Being wrong isn’t a failure; it’s a success. We have just learnt something new!

Intellectually humility is in short supply today, and that is a big problem in business, political discourse and in our all-important personal relationships. Our conversations, in general, seem to be represented by a ‘battle of the monologue, with the assertion of belligerent opinion winning the day.

We need more intellectual humility as it is arguably the antidote to what ailes us in todays modern environment in which we live, the organisational cultures in which we work and, dare I say it the homes in which we share our lives with our loved ones.

These four questions can help develop our intellectual humility and we should take personal responsibility to cascade it into our meetings, boardrooms and conversations with colleagues, friends and family members

Then again, I could be wrong!

References:

Burger Warren, (2018) The Book Of Beautiful Questions
Pink Dan (2019) Pinkcast 3.0.9

 

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