On Intellectual Humility: Tolerance vs Respect

Hello from Kyoto, and welcome to the latest Snow Report! If you like what you read here, pass it along! <3

One of the keys to exercising intellectual humility in our lives—that is, discerning when and when not to change our minds, and having the strength to do so—is having respect for other viewpoints. Being open to ideas that seem foreign to us is incredibly important for innovation, and for progress in society.

But what happens when someone else’s viewpoint is morally abhorrent?

As I lay out in The Black Square chapter of Dream Teams, even bad ideas can lead us to good ideas—and often, things that look crazy or far out end up helping us make incredible breakthroughs in business and in life. So it’s important for us to be curious enough to explore viewpoints we don’t initially “get,” if we want to maximize our chances of making progress on whatever we’re working on.

And yet, sometimes that someone else is Hitler and his viewpoint is “we should kill all the Jews.” What then?

Does having intellectual humility mean we need to tolerate this viewpoint?

Or what about less evil, but nonetheless bad viewpoints? Like, the belief that we should abolish the law that you have to clean up after your German Shepherd when it poops on the public sidewalk?

Does being tolerant mean you need to accept that?

This question has repercussions in both business and politics, and it explains the dilemma many well meaning, open-minded people have when they encounter, say, people who aren’t open minded.

The answer lies, as it often does, in our conflation of two similar, but different things. That is, the difference between respect and tolerance.

Respect is being willing to hear people out before we cast judgment. It’s seeking to understand people, not interrupting them first. It’s allowing them to believe what they believe, even if we disagree. It is not, however, allowing them to behave any way they want—say, if that involves doing harm to someone else.

Tolerance is allowing people to say, do, and be what they want. In most cases, this is a morally good thing. But tolerance is not morally good in all cases (e.g. Hitler.). In fact, tolerance taken to its extreme means tolerating intolerance, which is self-contradictory.

Philosopher Karl Popper described this paradox of tolerance in 1945. He eventually concluded that "in order to maintain a tolerant society, the society must be intolerant of intolerance."

I believe that having respect for human beings, no matter who they are or what they believe, is a morally good thing. And it’s good for innovation, as understanding bad ideas can help us develop good ones. I believe we should seek to understand people and hear them out before we cast judgment.

But we shouldn’t tolerate intolerant behavior. That itself is disrespectful. It’s, by definition, cutting off other viewpoints.

We can, however, still treat seemingly intolerant people with respect—to the degree that we can listen to them before we judge them. And we can give them fair hearings when their intolerance harms other people.

By seeking to understand even intolerant viewpoints, we can do the right thing and prevent intolerant views from becoming intolerant action (i.e. evil)—and we can do it without selling out our humanity.

So let’s listen a little more. Let’s try to understand a little more. And let’s not let intolerance prevent us from being open minded—or from stopping intolerance itself.

Maybe we can learn a little about ourselves in the process.

Much love (and respect),

Shane

P.S. On the dog poop sidewalk question: I think that’s not a question of tolerance so much as negative externalities that affect society in a bad way. But I’m willing to hear out arguments in favor of not curbing your dog, if anyone has one! ;)

P.P.S. I have a HUGE post about intellectual dishonesty and debate coming up soon. Stay tuned, and meantime, happy holidays!

P.P.P.S. Have you checked out the new book Insane Mode yet? It’s by one of my favorite writers, Hamish Mckinzie, and it just came out. It’s about the future of energy, electric cars, and the strange and mythological leadership of Elon Musk.

Before You Have That Argument At Thanksgiving...

Ohayogozaimasu and hello from Tokyo! Welcome to the latest Snow Report on thinking different. This week we discuss a tool for recognizing our own, gasp!, political biases:

IF YOU’RE LIKE ME, you probably think you’re right about a lot of things. Even if you’ve been working on practicing intellectual humility, it’s hard to operate in life without being sure about things.

But sometimes we’re sure about things that aren’t true. And one of the biggest areas where this quickly turns tense is—you guessed it—politics.

Well, this week I stumbled on a marvelous little test that blew my mind about my political biases, and it did it in a way that didn’t even bruise my ego. If you’re anticipating any talk of politics at the Thanksgiving dinner table this week (or in your life in general, for those Snow Report readers living outside of the US!), I highly suggest you take a moment out of your day to take:

THE POLITICAL BIAS TEST

This thing tests your knowledge of the facts around some current political issues, and then tells you where your own biases are on things you don’t know the facts on. It’s super clever, and really easy to get through.

Now bias isn’t such a scary thing all the time. It can simply indicate what angle you tend to look at things first. But often it indicates where your “guesses” about things you don’t actually know are more rooted in your mind than they should be.

Understanding where your weak spots are is an incredible way to become a better person—and a more pleasing conversationalist over turkey dinner.

So take a minute to give this test a shot, and feel free to pass this along to anyone you’ll be dining with this week. Maybe it’ll facilitate a more fascinating dinner discussion.

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Stay tuned next time for a big post I’m working on about intellectually dishonest debate—and how to argue like a righteous champion. I’m excited!

Much love,

Shane

Getting back to human

Welcome back to The Snow Report! I’m writing this one from Tokyo, where I have already seen a robot dog. Thanks for supporting, reading, caring, et al!

SOME TIME AGO, I had an epiphany that now sounds so obvious as to be silly when I say it out loud. The epiphany was that everything is teamwork.

I’m on work teams, of course. But even my solo work like writing is the product of collaboration and building off of others’ work.

And also, my family is a team. So is my neighborhood. My city. My country. And really… I’m part of a team called Team Humanity. And so are you. It’s just that I and probably a lot of the rest of us don’t really think of it that way, in part because so much of what we do takes place in our own heads and from our own points of view.

But whatever the case, I’m convinced that the more we remind ourselves that we humans are all on the same team, the more critically we’ll think about the way we treat each other and work together. And the better we’ll get at our own solo stuff too.

To quote futurist Doug Rushkoff:

The simplest way to understand and change our predicament is to recognize that being human is a team sport. We cannot be fully human, alone. Anything that brings us together fosters our humanity. Likewise, anything that separates us makes us less human, and less able to exercise our will.

That’s why I’m excited about a book that’s coming out this week by my pal Dan Schawbel, called Back to Human. It’s about making business and work human again. In other words, being more real in an era that seems more digitized and surreal than ever. I just posted an interview with Dan about his writing process and why the book matters here, if you’d like to check out a sneak peak!

It’s also why I’m hyped about a book that comes out early next year called Team Human, by the above Doug Rushkoff himself. He’s a thinker and futurist whose work you should know. And his podcast, also called Team Human, is a dose of insight that will change the way you think about humans and society.

So let’s remember to be humans. And let’s remind ourselves that part of being human is being human together.

Much love,

Shane

The #1 Thing Congress & The Rest Of Us Need Right Now

This week’s Snow Report is a special one. It’s the culmination of months of recent work on a very important topic. (Unsubscribe at the bottom if you don’t want to get The Snow Report anymore.)

THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE the most positive difference in the world are the ones who are able to discern when they need to change—and then are brave enough to do so even when the cost is high.

These kinds of people make amazing teammates because they are able to consider people and ideas that others won’t.

They make amazing leaders, because they are able to choose the right thing to do over the easy thing to do.

They make amazing citizens, because they don’t stop learning and thinking as the world around them changes.

Scientists have a term for people like this: Intellectually Humble.

FOR THE LAST COUPLE MONTHS, I’ve been working on an epic post distilling all the research we know today about Intellectual Humility, and how to get better at it. I’m convinced that this is the number one thing that any leader, team member, citizen, or family member can learn in order to become more effective tomorrow than they are today.

This is especially relevant in today’s world of “alternative facts” and deep ideological divisions. The more intellectual humility we have, the better we can work with others who aren’t like us, the more innovative problem solvers we can be, and the better people we can become.

Read the whole post here about everything about Intellectual Humility and how to develop more of it. Or jump to a section that interests you:

Table of Contents:

  1. Malcolm X and The Power of Intellectual Humility

  2. How To Develop Intellectual Humility:

    • Respect For Other Viewpoints

    • Lack of Intellectual Overconfidence

    • Separating Ego From Intellect

    • Revising Our Viewpoints (And Knowing When To)

  3. The Benefits of An Intellectually Humble Life

  4. Take the Intellectual Humility Assessment For Yourself

If this topic is important to you, too, I encourage you to pass this email along, or share the post on your Facebook. Here’s to getting better together!

Much love,

Shane

Here's How The World's Model For Leadership Needs To Change

The tallest brick-frame building in the world is 16 stories high. It’s the Monadnock Building in Chicago, built in the 1890s. When it was built, it was the largest office building in the world.

Brick can bear a lot more weight than wood. That’s why you’ll see brick buildings over 10 stories, and rarely see a wood building over five. At a certain height, wood just won’t hold up under its own weight.

But eventually, brick collapses on its own weight, too, which is why after Monadnock we started building skyscrapers with concrete frames. The tallest concrete-framed building is 98 stories high. It happens to be the Trump International Tower in Chicago.

However, the tallest building in the world today, the Burj Khalifa, is literally TWICE as tall as the Trump building. It can go that high because its frame is made out of steel.

(chart courtesy of Skyscraperpage)

The crude history of skyscraper architecture is that each time we’ve developed a building material that allows us to go higher, we’ve eventually reached a limit to how high we can go—until we developed a new material to build with. Taken too far, the old material eventually collapses on itself.

Behavioral scientists who study success—how humans achieve things and make progress—have uncovered an irony that parallels this principle in our own lives. Marshal Goldsmith put the idea simply in the title of his 2007 business book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Just as brick and concrete helped us to get to new heights with buildings—and eventually steel helped us break through even higher—certain human traits that help us succeed often eventually hold us back, or even cause us to implode, if we continue to take them further.

Baggy pants and skateboarding helped me to “succeed” in the high school popularity contest, but they’ll probably hold me back from getting that promotion at age 34.

Today, I think it’s time for humanity to switch to a new construction material when it comes to how we frame leadership.

Anciently, we picked leaders based on the “the big guy who fights good” model. Whoever was most likely to successfully face down the sabre tooth tiger or lead us to victory in battle against other tribes became the chief. Even after we became “civilized,” we instinctually still looked to bigger, taller, ultra-masculine people for leadership. (This instinct is still lodged in our subconscious, as evidenced by statistics that show that tall men tend to get paid more and attain higher offices in business and politics than shorter men, or women.)

But at a certain point, the toolkit of a fighter starts to create more problems than it solves. The modern world requires more strategy and persuasion than Ogg the Caveman can provide.

So eventually we upgraded our “big, tough guy” leadership bricks for a new paradigm, “the persuasive one who’s right about things and isn’t wrong” model. Just as we wanted olden-day leaders to provide security, in a world of industry and complex problems we found confidence in leaders who had answers. So we elect politicians who “win” the debate, we promote executives who come up with the “right” answers, and we all spin our weaknesses and failings in ways that make us look like we’re smart and confident.

Unfortunately, the usefulness of this model is waning in a world as hyperconnected and complicated as ours today.

The truth is, no one leader can have all the answers to all the challenges of a particular group. And if our progress depends on the intelligence level of the most powerful person in our tribe, we’re eventually going to be screwed.

And when taken too far, the “leader who’s right” model starts to collapse on itself, just like a brick building built too high. These leaders are incentivized to appear right at all costs, even if the price is, you know, doing the right thing.

So our CEOs and politicians spin every mistake into a win, and cast blame on circumstances or enemies or whoever in order to always appear perfect. And the model leads us to put ill-equipped people into leadership roles in the first place—we elevate people who lucked out with the “right” moves at some point or who play the PR game well, even if they’s bad team-builders and managers.

Thus we’re left, in many cases (politics especially, both corporate and national), with leaders who are more likely to dig their heels in rather than change their minds, attack the truth rather than adapt to it, and worry about their image over the needs of the people they lead. This means we all speak up less if we’re not sure we’re right—which means we’re not reaching our collective potential, no matter how smart and diverse the group of people we’re working with. Sometimes this behavior is more conscious than others; either way, we’ve created a system that encourages behavior that stifles progress.

It’s time to upgrade our leadership paradigm once more. What got us to today won’t get us to tomorrow.

So what does that upgrade look like? I call it “the wise conductor.”

The leader of tomorrow needs to be a master of unlocking the potential of others. They need to understand that their team needs to be smarter and see further than the leader by him- or herself—and so they’ll focus on putting the right people together, and including and listening to all sorts of people, even their opponents.

They’ll need to be “intellectually humble”—respectful and open to new and different points of view and ways of doing things, plus willing and able to change their minds when it’s hard. They’ll need to be brave enough to say, “I don’t know” and “I was wrong about that,” and clever enough to put the right people together to tackle challenges in new ways.

That leader will need to be able to persuade and paint a vision of a future that gives people security and confidence, yes, but they will also recognize that we’re not going to get there through the sheer force of their own abilities or personality.

So let’s start looking at leadership a little more like this now. Let’s stop rewarding people for appearing strong, or for having the right answers themselves. Let’s start rewarding people for speaking up, for pushing the group forward, and for unlocking the potential in those around them. Let’s start celebrating those who are humble enough to listen and change their minds. And let’s stop feeding the egos of leaders who refuse to admit they’re wrong.

Let’s switch materials before the building collapses, and elevate our world together.

Much love,

Shane

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