“Once in a while you get shone the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right”

The brilliant and always insightful Valeria Maltoni recently wrote a blog post at her site Conversation Agent about the importance of “Engaging Multiple Perspectives to Expand Opportunities.” She opens with the following:

It happens in every industry, business, and (if we’re not careful) community—it becomes homogeneous over time. We gravitate toward people like us, and our conversations and worldviews start reflecting those of others. This reinforces a cultural phenomenon that goes by the name of bandwagon effect.

Which then becomes a self-fulfilling mechanism, and behaviors tip or go mainstream. The more we can see what everyone else is saying, the higher rate of uptake of beliefs, ideas, fads and trends. Social media’s design is to highlight and thus reinforce the bandwagon effect. But, there is a distinction between what we say and what we do, and we rarely learn whether behavior follows.

We might become popular by reinforcing popular beliefs. Which in turn provides additional incentive to remain less informed about alternative options. Yet new opportunities come from our willingness to consider or receive new and different ideas, from keeping an open mind.

For me personally, I’ve never done well in an echo chamber. I seek out alternative opinions and perspectives and constantly strive to challenge my own deeply held beliefs on any given topic, as a matter of course.

In my junior year of high school, I recall reading Hegel and being fascinated by his so-called dialectical model — thesis, antithesis, synthesis:

  1. A thesis is an idea
  2. The antithesis is the polar opposite of that idea
  3. Put them together, and the resulting synthesis is a brand new idea, ready to be challenged itself, beginning the sequence again

What’s the Point?

Look outside of your job, your profession, your company, and even your own industry to find the answers you seek about what lies ahead.

For example, some of the most cutting edge advancements in architecture and sustainable building practices come from observing biological adaptations in a field of study known as biomimicry. The research scientists I worked with at Pfizer-acquired Agouron developed the (at the time) breakthrough HIV drug Viracept by utilizing high-powered supercomputers to create 3D simulations of the HIV molecule and then designed a compound that would lock onto its chemical receptors disabling the virus.

Sure, people may look at you funny and question your sanity, while others may actively try to block your progress. And, like everyone else that ever attempted anything worthwhile, you’re bound to have plenty of missteps and failures along the way. But that’s just fear talking.

As Jerry Garcia once said:

Stuff that’s hidden and murky and ambiguous is scary because you don’t know what it does.

Be brave, be bold, and don’t be afraid to challenge your most deeply held beliefs as the world will almost certainly be a better place for it.