When it comes to ideas, there are good ones and there are bad ones. That is not to say that the person who has conceived the idea is good or bad, painted with same brush.
This generalisation is intellectually lazy.
It saves the person the emotional energy of actually considering all sides.
Those that only receive one side of the information have a far easier time being confident in their answers due to “cognitive ease” — a concept introduced in ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman.
If you don’t have the cognitive dissonance confusing you, you feel more confident that you are right – that makes a whole lot of intuitive sense.
The easier something is to consider the more confident in it you are.
Mike Cannon-Brookes (Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Atlassian) said in a TEDx talk about Imposter Syndrome (feeling undeserving and out of your depth) that the most successful people are willing to question their ideas and opinions, without questioning themselves.
We are not our ideas, our ideas come from us… If you put the wrong ingredients into a cake and it came out gross would you blame the oven?
Similarly, we too are machines that take inputs (concepts, experiences, memories, ideas) and synthesise them into opinions, adapted ideas and plans as outputs.
This separation between originator and concept is vital because it means that when someone disagrees with you it is not necessarily a personal attack.
Elon Musk has said that it is vital that you recognise that you are always somehow partly wrong, and the goal is to find ways to become less wrong.
This slight mindset shift allows you to be more forgiving of disagreement, as it now directly contributes to you achieving your goal — instead of holding you back.
If you never disagreed you’d always settle on the first idea raised, going deeper in deeper into a rabbit-hole without considering the different paths.
Interesting Aside: In computing (Graph Theory) a Depth-First Search on a network of information will always go into the first ‘branch’ it sees, getting to the bottom of the network as fast as possible…
Visualise traversing a tree trying to find the best apples. Starting from the trunk across the branches to get to the leaves looking at the least number of branch ‘intersections’ to get there. You’ll miss a whole bunch of good apples, highly inefficient, right?
Avoid Depth-First Search decision making in most cases (end of aside)
Do you like to make decisions based on the least amount of information possible?
You’ll be missing a whole lot of gems along the way.
Priorities: Being right, or seeming right?
This will obviously rely on the disagreeing party’s ability to objectively criticise a stance or decision of yours. But then if it does become legitimately ad hominem (personal attack fallacy) you can just disregard it as an emotional lashing, and not constructive, and then not take it personally.
It is more important to be correct than to be deemed right. This means that even when you think you know the answer it is worth hearing unbiased accounts of those you trust.
So, do not first tell them what you think, have them put forth their honest perspective. Biasing your confidants won’t do you any good.
This will be impossible if you have a habit of soliciting advice and then consistently dismissing it completely or attacking them when they are honest.
Be conscious of your first response because it will inform the quality of future responses.
By all means, champion your cause. But do not fixate on “winning” the argument, because by that point, all parties have already lost.
What is a “strong idea”?
I posit that it is a construct that has been well reinforced with thoughtful consideration and has been dug a deep foundation. An idea that you have fully thought through. Created through the synthesis of many different and diverse information sources, so it is reliable.
What, then, is a “weak idea”?
As would be implied, it is an idea that is flippant and frivolous, barely thought through, even damaging at times through the consequences of assuming it to be true.
Weak ideas are surface level; insipid. They ignore higher-order consequences and use confirmation bias (actively seek out supporting evidence and/or ignore contradictory evidence) to self-propagate.
We see weak ideas daily, in such a fast-paced culture it is almost impossible to stop and think about everything. That is why pattern recognition and constructive discussion are more vital than EVER.
The former can only be gained overtime through exposure.
Mastery: “look mum, no hands”
Pattern recognition is what happens when things become automatic, when you reach the intuition stage of mastery. When you drive a car, on a straight road, you do not need to think, in fact you can often hold a thoughtful conversation at the same time.
Of course, there are times when driving that you need to focus (narrow streets, reverse parking etc) and this is the same with any task. Ideally you will be doing the same 20% of tasks 80% of the time (Pareto Principle) and those will be almost completely automatic.
The goal here is to be able to recognise situations and handle them automatically with previously built “strong ideas” that you have held onto, saving yourself the time and mental strain of making new decisions each time you see a similar situation.
This topic is now deeply within the territory of establishing effective “Mental Models”, which will be elaborated on in later writings. Creating these heuristics (a process to deal with a complicated situation using close approximation to simplify) to deal with the bulk of your issues will streamline the day-to-day and allow for higher order thinking.
Trust falls and pit falls
If someone is completely deluded they will not open themselves to new experiences for fear of failing at it and shattering their illusion. The latter is a matter of trust, in the strength of your relationships with those you respect and who respect you.
My closest friends are those who understand my situation and I, theirs. We are able to give each other real, critical feedback to help each other evaluate tough decisions…
Do you fire this person, do you invest in this area of the business, how can you improve your investability, why are your customers churning (leaving) so quickly (is your current product truly fitting the market’s need?).
We can do this because we know we have each other’s best interests at heart, we have established trust.
Trust is the foundation of valuable feedback.
For me at least, I establish a deeper level of trust with someone when they have proven they are willing to adapt their “strong idea” based on newly discovered evidence. They are then trusted to provide me with feedback.
Don’t listen to everyone, everyone has an opinion, being pulled in ten directions won’t move you forward.
The dog that chases two cars, catches neither.
While most weak ideas spawn from quick decisions, not all quick decisions are weak ideas. If it is spawned from a previously held “strong idea” it is fair to inherit the strength of its parent idea. This simplistic relationship leaves out the fact that an idea can either be stuck in a close-minded cage or it can evolve as new information is introduced.
While an idea can and likely will be born weak, it should not stay that way. It is vital that one opens their mind to be criticised and when shown fresh evidence reevaluate their standpoint.
If you never expose your idea to the world, it will stay weak.
This is one of the reasons I share my ideas, both on a business level and a personal one.
The only way to ensure your idea won’t grow is to keep it boxed up. You need to be willing to let it out and let it grow and adapt.
This is what it is to hold an idea “lightly”, as you are not your ideas you are able to let go of them when they no longer yield value.
When your preconceived notions are holding you back, restricting your ability to perform, you will gain from letting them go.
Allowing your ego to tether you to a bad course of action will get you in trouble.
If the plane is going down, eject.
Do not allow past mistakes to influence future ones.
A wise man decides to look like a fool for a second to avoid being a fool forever.
It is so common to have myriad weak ideas and use them as bedding, a comfortable hiding place from the truth. Often you can shatter the illusion of strength behind a weak idea by purely asking “why” a couple of times, a design thinking principle we use at Atlassian to nail the design decisions made.
If someone gets defensive when asked why that surely is a red flag.
Once you have made your bed, you will be forced to lie in it.
So go deep, which is a function of thoughtfulness, not of time. You do not need to consider things for a long time, but just be honest when you evaluate them.
Multiply your thinking power, your ‘brain hours’ by discussing with others.
Being paralysed by analysis will not serve you in this rushing rapid of competition. But as Simon Sinek always drives home: Start with why.
The only way to always have the best ideas? Create great value ideas, but be ready to let them go when something better comes along.