“There is no expedient to which a man will not go to avoid the labor of thinking” Thomas A. Edison (1847 – 1931)
A colleague of mine has a student evaluation form framed on his office wall, from an MBA student we jointly taught a few years ago. It marks us a very low 2/5. The comment accompanying this scathing mark is “the Professors made me think for myself, it was far too hard and not the reason I joined the MBA programme”.
Why is thinking for ourselves so difficult?
There are so many reasons that have been suggested that we really don’t know where it start. The dominant Western education system comes in for most flak, as a “system designed to rapidly equip the common person with the sort of skills they would need to competently work in factories or farms back in the 1800s”, and university is described as a “clone factory”.
Certainly culture plays a huge part, even the Western, supposedly ‘Individualist’ culture, tribe membership comes with costs attached; it pays not to criticise the leaders and not to annoy your peers. It can even be a survival strategy when living among ‘abusers’ – Uber springs to mind although I have seen others. Extroverts tend to do better than Introverts in the corporate world because they are more likely to actively court approval from peers.
The dilemma is that, research suggests that Introverts are more likely to think for themselves. Group think explained. Fit in, or stand out….
More generally, people may simply lack the motivation or have the ability/skills. The fact is that the daily toil most people have for a life simply does not require them to think.
Worryingly, according to Sofo Archon, people are simply afraid to think for themselves. Why?
- Thinking brings change.
- Thinking brings doubt.
- Thinking brings responsibility.
Why is thinking for ourselves so important?
With robots and AI approaching it might be reasonable to suggest that the ability to think for oneself may be the only ability any of us needs to master in our lifetimes. Certainly it is the source from which all future invention, advancement, prosperity, knowledge, and wisdom are likely to flow. Why is it critical?
- Thinking brings change – The business environment is already changing faster than most managers can deal with – inevitably they fall behind. History is littered with companies that simply failed to change.
- Thinking brings doubt – Certainty, stability and predictability is simply a figment of the business world’s imagination*, it has never existed. Business is risk. Tomorrow’s manager needs, not only to embrace doubt and uncertainty, but to see it as an opportunity.
- Thinking brings responsibility – To be a leader, one first needs followers. Followers respect leaders who accept responsibility. The past few decades have witnessed the widespread avoidance of responsibility, by politicians, religious leaders, as well as senior business leaders. As part of the structural change since the ‘crisis’ of 2008, the “I didn’t say that”, “It wasn’t my fault”, “Everybody was doing it” is being treated with growing disdain – the future belongs to those who will relish, not shirk, responsibility.
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” George Bernard Shaw (1903)