The Future of Work: Staying Actively Open-Minded

A colourful lightbulb surrounded by black and white images of business frameworks

I have been ‘slowly’ reading the new book by Daniel Kahneman – Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgement.

“Do What I say!” vs. “How Can I Help?”

For years I’ve discussed with teams the critical difference between arguing and debating.  

Arguing is the simple statement of what one believes to be true and not deviating from that “pixel perspective”. 

Debate, on the other hand requires being able to defend the opposite to which you strongly believe. In contrast to arguing, this demonstrates a “panoramic perspective” of the problem(s) to be solved.

Judgment Is A Work In Progress

This larger perspective is what Kahneman descries as being “actively open-minded”:

To be actively open-minded is to actively search for information that contradicts your preexisting hypothesis. Such information includes the dissenting opinions of others and the careful weighting of new evidence against old beliefs. Actively open-minded people agree with statements like this: “Allowing oneself to be convinced by an opposing argument is a sign of good character.” They disagree with the proposition that “changing your mind is a sign of weakness” or that “intuition is the best guide in making decisions.” In other words, while the cognitive reflection and need for cognitive scores measure the propensity to engage in slow and careful thinking, actively open-minded thinking goes beyond that. It is the humility of those who are constantly aware that their judgment is a work in progress and who yearn to be corrected. 

Kahneman et al. pg. 234

Are You Keeping An Open Mind?

After carefully considering how Kahneman describes being actively open-minded, try answering the following questions:

  • Can you argue in favour of other professionals in your organization – starting with those with whom you disagree?  
  • Are you curious about their perspective and why their perception differs vastly from your own? 
  • Would you consider modelling the mindset of being “actively open-minded”, as Kahneman suggests?  
  • What would be the benefits? 
  • Can you see any downside to this approach other than it being difficult and perhaps uncomfortable; as all change is for humans?

Field Notes

This, I believe, is the actual work of the future. (As I edit this post it’s more likely the current state of work, not being actualized in many disciplines and organizations.)

A few ways I’ve found helpful in maintaining an actively open-mind, include:

  • In the past I would set up regular meetings with those with whom I disagree. The purpose of the meeting wasn’t to argue my point, but to question for clarity about their perspective.
  • I often attend meet-up events of other professionals with whom I either disagree or simply fail to understand. I pay attention to the focus of community leaders and listen for patterns in their process and approaches.
  • After 20 years in the design and business world I’ve read well in excess of 500 books. While I keep up to date with trends, for every book I read in UX and related disciplines, I read four that have nothing to do with my career. I’ve found this invaluable by using metaphors to align teams without getting redirected to semantics such as comfortable processes and preferred terminology.
  • As an entrepreneur I learned early in my career to make sure my focus extended beyond the business. Decision fatigue impairs our judgment, making even the idea of an actively open-minded approach to work feel insurmountable. To that end, I made sure to spend time every day focused on personal interests outside of work.

We can do anything with technology and have access to all of the information.

With that shared experience, we either chose to work at seeking out the perspective of others while yearning to be corrected; or we simply stand our ground and argue our point.