“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald
If a billionaire walked up to you on the street and said that he knew the secret to success, what would you guess his secret to be? Would you think the answer to be along the lines of hard work, dedication to craft, knowing your market, providing exceptional service, or adding new value to customers? Something else?
Radically open-minded. I would imagine that you, like the majority of us, would consider yourself to be in that category, right? You’re a reasonable person after all. You are willing to compromise. You are pretty easygoing.
Let’s dig a bit deeper:
A Billionaire’s Secret to Success
Are you willing to have your ideas openly and strongly challenged? Are you willing to be wrong? Are you focused on understanding others versus your being understood? Do you take an energetic stance of expert (where there are few, new possibilities in your thinking), or as a leader with a Beginner’s Mind (where one greets challenges with curiosity and there are endless possibilities for solving each)?
Most of us have not been trained in this kind of radically open-minded thinking. Rather, we are more apt to be skilled in taking a position and arguing for the same with staunch devotion and passion. To waver, we are often taught, is to blink, lose.
Unlearning our outdated training is certainly doable if our will is present. Shifting into a truly, radically open mind feels like freedom—all the oxygen comes back into the room.
Interested in taking the billionaire’s advice to the next level?
What if we were to take Ray Dalio’s radically open-minded approach and marry it with what Roger Martin calls integrative thinking?
In his book, The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking, Martin defines integrative thinking as “the ability to face constructively the tension of opposing ideas and, instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing ideas, but is superior to each.”
That is, if you were to take your old Pros/Cons list, for example, and instead of seeing which column is longer to drive your decision, Martin suggests that we take parts from each opposing column to form a new, previously-unseen (and better) solution.
Bring to mind right now a decision that has been weighing on you. Something that has had you swinging back and forth between two options, unsure as to which direction is the better choice. Create your standard Pros/Cons list on a piece of paper turned to a horizontal orientation with the Pros on the far left and the Cons on the far right.
Leave a big, blank section in the middle of the two columns.
After you have listed all the bullet points for each column, study both. Release your mental grip on the tension of choosing one column over the other. Instead, generate ideas and thoughts that can constitute a bridge between the two columns. That is, soften your thinking and your stance and let your brain begin to creatively problem solve.
Next, lean back, close your eyes, and ask yourself: What could go in the middle? What could serve as a link that is not one or the other, but rather an entirely new perspective of this decision?
The Secret to Success
Resist the urge to force solutions. Try to let go of the need for one decision to be the better choice and see if your brain will offer you unique insight. Can you see any new ways of living and working in the bridge space between the two columns that takes elements from each column and creates an entirely new path forward?
As entrepreneurs and leaders, we can transform the tension of opposing ideas and positions into creativity. We can ignite our ability to see a multitude of possibilities and be excited by complex challenges.
Further, when others see the world differently than we, our curiosity and ability to sit in the tension and mine that third column of possibilities can result in resolved conflict as well as untold innovation and wealth.