Newsflash: as human beings, we don’t actually know that much.
Our brains simply can't retain a lot of information. (We max out at about 1 gig's worth actually, according to a study mentioned in this month's culture video!)
We also believe a lot of things that aren’t true, because we often form opinions without understanding all the information that factors into those issues.
Why We Believe Things That Aren’t True…
Sure, it’s easy to point at other people and say their opinions are unfounded and even ridiculous…and you might be right.
But the same is true about you!
After all, how much do you actually understand about the things you believe? Can you explain the science, math, economics, history, and whatever else behind your opinions and beliefs in detail? Are your own opinions, beliefs, and “knowledge” on solid ground?
Unless you’re an expert on the subject matter in which you hold an opinion…probably not.
In his TedTalk, Philip Fernbach explains why, and where most of our opinions actually come from.
…And Why This Isn’t a Bad Thing
Lots to chew on, right?
We love this talk for a few reasons:
Reason #1: It beautifully illustrates the importance of two of our core Redmond values: Occhiolism and Ubuntu.
Reason #2: It reminds us that humans are built for collaboration.
Let's take a closer look at those.
Occhiolism and Ubuntu: How you see others and the world around you
Occhiolism is the awareness of the smallness of your perspective.
When we realize that we are just ONE perspective, we can get curious about OTHER perspectives, and about the world in general.
Most of our knowledge and opinions come from OTHER people’s knowledge and opinions. And this is great! Collective knowledge is awesome because it allows us to accomplish more together than we ever could alone.
But this has a dark side: when we don’t recognize that our perspective is severely limited, we close our minds to other facts and views and might even be judgmental of those who think differently. This can be a problem when we take action on incomplete information.
Occhilosm helps us seek out other perspectives to create a more accurate, truthful approach to life.
Ubuntu is a Nguni Bantu term that we have interpreted to mean, “I see you, I see me, and I am because we are.”
Ubuntu is about seeing and understanding yourself, appreciating and seeing others more clearly, and seeing the interconnectedness between all people. It’s believing that people are inherently good. (Which we tend to forget when others disagree with us!)
When we encounter opinions that are different from ours, it’s easy for us to go on the defensive and see the other person as an adversary, an obstacle, or as ignorant, uninformed, or even evil. In other words, we stop seeing them as a person and see them instead as an object.
Just think of political division or constant, heated debates on other hot topics. We can be incredibly cruel to those who think differently, but Ubuntu invites us to see past the conflict and see a human being just like us, with similar hopes, fears, desires, and motivations. Only then can we have productive discussions and open our minds to ideas that might contradict our beliefs.
This is when we stop competing and start seeking each other out because we realize we need each other.
Only then is collaboration possible.
We are built for collaboration
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” - African Proverb
It’s not fun to be told your brain holds less information than a cheap thumb drive you can get on Amazon. (And by the way, that might not be true either!)
But, you’re in good company, because this is true for all humans. And, as Philip Fernbach says, “Ignorance is a feature of the human mind, not a bug.”
Humans are this way for a reason. Whether you believe that we were designed like this or that we evolved to be this way, humans are social creatures and we are meant to collaborate. Our brains operate socially because, when we join together, it works.
We think this is really beautiful.
At Redmond, we collaborate a lot. Our leadership structure is collaborative. Our teams meet frequently with the goal of finding out what everyone is seeing.
We all have different strengths and perspectives, and the only way we can accomplish anything worth doing is by working together. Almost everything that we’ve accomplished as a species was the result of collaboration.
If each of us knows a little, we can pool our collective knowledge and, as a species, know a ton, which helps us accomplish incredible things. Together, we can do so much more than any of us ever could alone.
How to Make the Most of this Feature of the Human Mind
How can we better embrace our collaborative nature and make sure we don’t accidentally lock ourselves in an echo chamber?
Here are some practices to try:
Purposely seek out different opinions. Surround yourself with people who have different opinions, perspectives, strengths, and backgrounds. Read articles and books, listen to podcasts, vary your news sources, and have lots of conversations.
Practice intellectual humility. Be aware of the limits of your own understanding, and know that it’s okay to not know. Do your best to seek out balanced information and don’t be afraid of being wrong and adjusting your opinion when necessary.
Keep learning. Stay curious. Keep an open mind, and focus on just seeing what’s out there, not only on what confirms what you already believe. This is tricky for us to do, but the more we can value truth and learning over being right, the more we can grow!
Get Excited About What You Don’t Know
While it may feel discouraging (at first) to realize how little you actually know, isn’t possibility far more exciting than the prospect of knowing everything?
There’s always more to learn, and there’s always room to explore. With Occhiolism and Ubuntu, not knowing becomes an adventure and a chance to connect with others!
Want to learn more about this topic? Here are some other resources we found helpful.
Leadership and Self-Deception by the Arbinger Institute
The Power of Not Knowing by Liz Wiseman
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