3 Urgent Takeaways on the Importance of Humility - THINKERS Notebook

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3 Urgent Takeaways on the Importance of Humility

On Tuesday, I had the great privilege of hosting a webinar inside of the THINKERS Workshop with Ed Hess, author of the book Humility is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age.

I read this book for the first time a few years ago and it immediately impacted my thinking. Revisiting it this month in such a different context has led to a wave of useful new insights.

The most significant of those insights it the ever-increasing urgency of Ed's prescription that we cultivate more humility.

We've known for a while how the Smart Machine Age will impact the economy and the types of "NewSmart" skills (like critical thinking and collaboration) that will be required to succeed moving forward. 

But what has become even more crystal clear since the book was originally published in 2017 is how important humility is for engaging in civil and productive conversations -- the likes of which seem fewer and further between in so many online and offline channels.

How are we supposed to navigate a landscape of information overload, media bias, and extreme opinions seemingly all around us? There are no easy answers, but the ones that bear fruit will all have humility at their core.

For this reason, and so many others, I recommend that you read Ed's book.

Remember: even if you think you're already doing pretty well in the humility department, the best way to prove that's actually true is to recognize how much you can still learn about the subject. ;-)

I also recommend that you check out my recent conversation with Ed.

Normally this would be only be for THINKERS Workshop members, but we are unlocking it for one week so that all THINKERS Roundup subscribers can have access to it.

Here's how to access the replay:

And once you check it out, I'd love to know what your takeaways are. Seriously, please come back here and reply to this email. I get a real kick out of the email exchanges I have with subscribers like you.

Here are my three biggest takeaways from the time I got to spend talking with Ed:

1. The only path to lasting change is understanding why you want to change.

We live in a society that often pays lip service to the value of humility, but that doesn't back it up with the kinds of incentives, systems, and policies that make cultivating humility second nature.

This can make developing behaviors that are driven by humility a challenge, because changing long-term thought processes and habits is difficult.

Which is why understanding the why behind our desire to change is so important.

If we don't understand why we want to change -- or why we need to change -- then we're likely to revert back to familiar, comfortable habits at the first signs of struggle.

But with our why top of mind, we're more likely to fight through struggles and do the difficult but attainable work of rewiring our brain in positive ways.

2. Survival and legacy are powerful motivators.

If you're trying to figure out what kind of why might be powerful enough to help drive you toward positive change and overcome the obstacles along the way, consider these two: 

  • Survival
  • Legacy

These are especially powerful motivators for older people who are at a more advanced stage of their career.

How do you fit into the future of your team, company, or industry? What worked before may not work moving forward, and what was valued before may not be valued moving forward. You may need to be more intentional about developing humility just to survive.

What meaning are you creating with your time? Are you creating a positive impact on people? Are you building something that will last beyond you? Pride and ego can drive us toward personal achievement and wealth accumulation, but lasting legacies are built with humility.

And speaking of pride and ego ...

3. To cultivate more humility, we must transform what we take pride in.

There's a reason why "Quieting Ego" is the first of Ed's NewSmart behaviors. Our ego is what compels us to fear mistakes, attach our identify to our ideas, and favor competition over collaboration.

This can cause us to take too much pride in being right, succumb to damaging cognitive biases, and struggle to work in teams.

But we can get better -- and it's not about completely rejecting or ignoring pride or silencing our ego; instead, it's about calming our ego and intentionally taking pride in different things.

  • What if we took pride in how many mistakes we made?
  • What if we took pride in how good we became at reflective listening?
  • What if we took more pride in our team's collective accomplishments than simply our individual contributions?

If we start doing this, we're actually taking pride in our humility. We're getting two seemingly opposing forces moving in the same direction.

Now that's powerful.


So ... those are my three takeaways. What are yours? Let me know after you watch the video.

Below, you'll find three links to articles Ed has written on this topic and others. He's an insightful, generous man with so much to share. I greatly appreciate him joining us this week, and I hope you learn as much from him as I have.

First, a quick note about next week's new webinar inside the THINKERS Workshop ...

This Week in the THINKERS Workshop


If you haven't registered for our upcoming webinar with Brian Schultz, the CEO of Studio Movie Grill, now is the time to do it.

Brian is going to join us to share his thoughts on how to think clearly and make good decisions during a crisis. He has a lot of recent experience in this area, helping to navigate his company through an expansion during the COVID-19 shutdown and enduring impact.

This webinar will take place on Friday, June 26th at 3:00 p.m. ET.

Click here to RSVP and get the Zoom link.
Now on to this week's links ...

How to adapt ... so you don't get left behind.


What will be needed in the digital age is a work environment of Psychological Safety that enables an Idea Meritocracy evidenced by candor, challenging the status quo, data-driven decision-making, permission to speak freely, rapid experimentation, hyper-learning and allowance to make learning mistakes within financial parameters.

The goal is the highest levels of human cognitive and emotional performance. That requires the right mindsets, behaviors and processes.

How people talk to each other, how people listen, how people emotionally connect, how people manage their thinking and emotions, and how people collaborate are all examples of the granular nature of daily behavioral focus that will be required in the coming age of smart technology and the digital revolution.

Read: The Digital Age Requires a New Way of Working (UVA Darden: Ideas to Action)

The U.S. will need humility on a national scale to recover from the current pandemic. 


The U.S., as a country, has a history of overcoming major social and political challenges. COVID-19 is such a challenge. It is what it is. And it can be accepted with a realistic mindset and a commitment/movement to create the next evolutionary stage of humanity, enabled by technology with the appropriate human protections.

The new normal will be the evolution of human beings and society enabled by technology. The direction of that evolution, in the U.S., will be either optimizing the values this country has aspired to or the continued march toward a society characterized by divisiveness and inequality of: opportunity, income, health care, education and societal upward social mobility.

Read: COVID-19 Will Accelerate a 'New Normal': Continuous Adaptation(UVA Darden: Ideas to Action)

What if you organized an event outside of work to encourage sharing?


Studies show that the highest levels of human performance occur in small teams in which all members have a common purpose and values, deeply care about each other as unique human beings, have compassion for each other and trust each other. Trusting each other means believing that no one on the team will do you harm and that everyone is totally invested in each other’s personal development and success.

People who come to virtual team meetings in a negative emotional state (stressed, anxious, fearful, worried, etc.) are not in the emotional state that will enable high-quality positive emotional connections with others.

It is the team leader’s responsibility to create that positive emotional environment in virtual team meetings. 

Read: Leading Virtually is Emotional (UVA Darden: Ideas to Action)
Quote(s) of the week

“Real knowledge is knowing the extent of one's ignorance."

-- Confucius

"I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance."

-- Socrates