“I am very careful, and hopefully humble in knowing that I don’t know everything about this disease."
Dr. Anthony Fauci said these words on May 13th during a virtual Senate hearing.
They stuck with me. I've thought about them a lot since then.
Not for any reason related to the coronavirus pandemic, and certainly not for any reason even remotely political.
Rather, these words stuck with me because they invoke an idea that is essential to any discussion about how to think better, accumulate knowledge, and develop wisdom.
That idea is the power of intellectual humility.
You may have seen the following quote attributed to Socrates:
"The only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing."
Whether Socrates actually said this is, of course, up for debate. (If there is one thing I actually do think I know after all these years, it is to be skeptical of quotes that are widely circulated online.)
But whether the Socrates quote is apocryphal or not, the point those words make is that same as what Dr. Fauci was getting at with his statement.
And it's the same big idea that Edward D. Hess and Katherine Ludwig discuss in their book Humility is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age.
Hess and Ludwig argue that what qualifies as functional intelligence is changing right before our eyes as smart technologies become more and more prevalent.
The impact of this impending "Smart Machine Age," as they describe it, will likely be a shift in roles humans are able to play in terms of generating economic value.
When many physical and rote mental tasks are automated, what's left will be a need for "critical thinking, innovative thinking, creativity, and the kind of high emotional engagement with others that fosters relationship building and collaboration."
This is where humility, and specifically intellectual humility, will play a central role.
From pages 7-8 in their book:
What do we mean by humility? We do not mean its common connotation in U.S. culture: being meek or being subdued or thinking that you're not a worthy person. Our definition is derived from psychological science, Western critical thinking philosophy, and Eastern philosophy.
Our definition of humility, which we refer to throughout this book with a capital H, means a mindset about oneself that is open-minded, self-accurate, and 'not all about me,' and that enables one to embrace the world as it "is" in the pursuit of human excellence. We believe that our definition of Humility is the gateway to human excellence in the SMA because it enables the behaviors that underlie the high performance of SMA Skills.
As we explain further in chapter 3, Humility is a mindset that results in not being so self-centered, ego defensive, self-enhancing, self-promotional, and closed-minded -- all of which the science of learning and cognition shows inhibit excellence at higher-order thinking and emotionally engaging with others.
Now, you may be thinking that you already operate with a high level of intellectual humility. And perhaps you are.
But that presents an interesting paradox, doesn't it? Because someone who actually had the kind of intellectual humility that will be needed moving forward would surely believe that they don't have enough.
As the Hess and Ludwig write on page 8:
Perhaps some of you are saying to yourself: I already am a good thinker. I am a good listener. I do relate well to other people. I'm not self-centered. We thought that, too, seven years (and we had achieved success to prove it). But we were wrong. We were good enough, but good enough won't cut it anymore.
So in this week's edition of the THINKERS Roundup, I've selected three resources that provide more insight about what intellectual humility is and what you can do to foster more of it in your own life.
Plus, I found the book by Mr. Hess and Ms. Ludwig to be so insightful and valuable, that I booked a webinar for Friday, June 5th with Mr. Hess for members of the THINKERS Workshop.
The details are below. I hope you'll join us for what will surely be an illuminating discussion.
Please RSVP here: Why Intellectual Humility is the Key to Thriving in the Smart Machine Age
Note: if you can't attend live, don't worry. We're recording the webinar and will post the replay afterwards.
We will take questions at the end, so please submit them ahead of time if you know you can't be there live.
- Don't forget about our "Virtual Appy Hour" on Friday, May 29th. We're going to be peeling back the curtain on the next major update to the THINKERS App.
- This week's discussion question: What documentary film or series changed the way you think about an important topic (or opened your eyes to a new topic)?
- And check out Sean Jackson's latest essay for Workshop members: How to be a Strategic Thinker.
The THINKERS Workshop costs $499.99 per year (or $49.99 per month) to be a member. If you own a THINKERS Notebook, then you get a special discount. Just reply to this email and let me know you have a notebook, and I'll pass along the discount code.
New science backs up the power of intellectual humility
Gallup’s list of Most Admired People is populated with people who have changed, repented, evolved, and grown—not people who got it all right the first time. Saul the Christian persecutor changed his ways and became Paul the Christian apostle—and wrote half of the New Testament. I could go on.
We live in an era full of social pressure to appear perfect all the time, to never admit fault or weakness or else risk losing that promotion, that election, those followers, etc.
It’s an era where changing your mind or admitting you were wrong is fuel for your enemies—even when it was the right thing to do—and where blaming Others is the go-to strategy for dealing with setbacks.
And even without social pressure, changing our minds about things we’ve made our minds up about is psychologically painful. As humans, we tend to avoid the pain that comes with unlearning.
But the people who make the most positive difference in the world are not like this. They are the ones who are able to discern when they need to change and then be brave enough to do so even when the cost is high.
These kinds of people make amazing teammates because they are able to consider people and ideas that others won’t.
They make amazing leaders, because they are able to choose the right thing to do over the easy thing to do.
They make amazing citizens, because they don’t stop learning and thinking as the world around them changes.
Scientists have a term for people like this: Intellectually Humble.
Read: Intellectual Humility: The Ultimate Guide (Shane Snow)
Intellectual humility is about so much more than just being smarter
Unlike general humility — which is defined by traits like sincerity, honesty, and unselfishness — intellectual humility has to do with understanding the limits of one’s knowledge. It’s a state of openness to new ideas, a willingness to be receptive to new sources of evidence, and it comes with significant benefits:
People with intellectual humility are both better learners and better able to engage in civil discourse. Google’s VP in charge of hiring, Laszlo Bock, has claimed it as one of the top qualities he looks for in a candidate: Without intellectual humility, he has said, “you are unable to learn.”
Read: How ‘Intellectual Humility’ Can Make You a Better Person (The Cut)
Intellectual humility will make you a better leader
Intellectual humility is one of the key traits that Google looks in new hires. Wise leaders know that solving problems is a team effort — everyone brings something different to the table.
Research on inclusive leadership found that when people observe selfless behavior in their leaders, they were more likely to feel included in the teams.
Wise leaders don’t pretend to have all the answers — they lead with questions rather than with solutions. Their job is to get the best ideas from their teams. That requires putting their ego aside rather and letting go of the need to be always right.
Findings from one study revealed that humble CEOs create a positive influence around them: their teams are more collaborative, transparent, and eager to learn.
Read: How Intellectual Humility Can Make You a Better Leader (LIberationist)
“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.”
-- Bertrand Russell
Photo by Joao Tzanno on Unsplash