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Become an Independent Thinker

2040’s Independence Day Reads: Become an Independent Thinker

Issue 167, July 4, 2024

We’ve all got summer reading lists. Ours is understandably eclectic. In celebration of Independence Day, we thought it timely to share a selection of our most popular newsletters; what they have in common (no surprise) is independent thinking, which is a useful skill in our admittedly confusing times. If the recent presidential debate showed room for improvement in critical thinking and credibility, our readers put those themes at the top of their favorite Ideas and Innovations list. Enjoy reviewing the “people’s choice” topics that we have tackled recently.

Is This Us?

If you look at this American life, are we operating from deeper and deeper pockets of ingrained dissention and distrust? It is antithetical to the tenets of what built our nation to reinvent a better political and social system based on freedom. But honestly, the more we observe popular broadcasts, news feeds and social media brands, the more we become convinced that anarchy based on misinformation may be in our future. It’s hard to find any neutral reporting anywhere — even National Public Radio. Many of us feel disempowered and powerless to change the cultural conversation, believing we are being held captive on a runaway train of dissent, from all sides. It is our collective responsibility to protect our rights, work to improve the quality of life, petition for what we believe in, and try to see all sides of a problem or situation. We bring these cautionary tales to the forefront as believers in free will and the ability to make choices that matter.

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The Misfortunes of Uninformed Urgency

It may sound like a contradiction, but informed urgency is critical. First off, let’s not confuse urgency with speed. Urgency is necessity and insistence. And informed urgency, therefore, is knowledge-based necessity. The pros for urgency list competitive advantage, customer satisfaction, agility and motivation (motivating employees to work efficiently and prioritize tasks effectively, leading to increased productivity and performance). The cons, on the other hand cite, rushed decisions, stress and burnout, neglect of strategic planning and overlooked opportunities. The pros of deliberation are better decision-making, risk mitigation, resource optimization, and long-term success. The cons? Missed opportunities, slow response potentially causing reputational damage or loss of competitive advantage, inefficiency and responding to market dynamics that could make decisions obsolete by the time they are made.

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The Value of Reflective Decision Making

You’d have to be living on the underside of a big rock not to be pummeled around with the pressures of keeping up and staying ahead. What happens when we are operating in stressful times? Among our many behaviors, there is a tendency to make reactive, not reflective decisions. Reactive decision-making is not uncommon in managing in disruptive times however it veers toward short-term thinking. Reactive decision-making requires courage, resilience, and resourcefulness. It is also the result of preparation and mindfulness as emotional and psychological infrastructure tools for acting in the moment. Reflective decision-making means considering why what you did or plan to do matters. It means exploring emotions, feelings, reactions, and knowledge; and it can even trigger a catharsis. Think of reflection as exploring the “so what” instead of just the “what.”

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Unintended Consequences: Decision-Making and Economic Interconnectedness

When there is real or perceived urgency to solve a problem (including responding to public opinion and sentiment), the solution often follows a linear focus. Point A identifies the problem sought to be solved and Point B describes the solution. “Great,” the leader exclaims, “Let’s move forward!” What is typically missed is the interconnectedness of the factors and variables, how they feed and influence each other, and how they are interdependent to operate effectively. It is important to understand that every system — be it global, a society, a collection of countries, an organization and even a family — is comprised of few to many individuals and factors with interdependencies and relationships that are internal as well as external.

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The Need for Reversed Learning

Reversed learning is a potentially anxiety-producing shift that challenges our concepts and beliefs. It affects who we are, what we do and how we self-conceptualize our contributions and value in our professional and personal lives. When we are confronted with the necessity to change, whether self-inflicted or imposed, we become increasingly uncomfortable. In reaction, our innate programming is to limit the energy required to unlearn a skill, solve a problem, or evaluate a situation. Unlearning is counterintuitive. Our mindset is ingrained from when we are taught at an early age that practice makes perfect. This is amplified by the pressure to keep at it to achieve higher competence leading to notable expertise. We’re told from the get-go to hone our skills, refine our talents, and just get better and better over the course of our professional careers.

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Vulnerability as an Asset

Vulnerability is the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally. But in a slightly different context, it is a willingness to show emotion or to allow one’s weaknesses to be seen or known; a willingness to risk being emotionally hurt. The foundation for open communication consists of honesty, trust, and vulnerability. It is the foundational aspect of vulnerability that plays to a wide audience and resonates particularly well with next gens. Imperfections are what connect us to each other and to our humanity. Our vulnerabilities are not weaknesses; they are powerful reminders to keep our hearts and minds open to the reality that we’re all in this together. The quest for perfection is exhausting and unrelenting. There is a constant barrage of social expectations that teach us that being imperfect is synonymous with being inadequate. Everywhere we turn, there are messages that tell us who, what and how we’re supposed to be. So, we learn to hide our struggles and protect ourselves from shame, judgment, criticism and blame by seeking safety in pretending and perfection.

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The Risk of Certainty

Operating in today’s ever-changing, highly disruptive, unpredictable, asymmetrical marketplace is far from ensuring certainty. Darwin’s theory of natural selection appears especially relevant today as the operative mode to survive and thrive. As Professor Scott Galloway says, “The species that survive are not the smartest, strongest, or fastest … but the most adaptable.” That seems to be true today as much as it has been in the history of evolution. Regardless, it doesn’t seem to discourage many leaders from deferring to certainty rather than adaptability as a leadership strategy. The classic profile of leading with courage and confidence exudes a sense of certainty to provide the workforce with a cocoon of security. Even if that certainty becomes a harbinger of failure.

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Why Does Belonging Matter?

The most fundamental motivation among the human species is to belong. Belonging is implicit in sharing trust, affinity and caring about someone or something bigger than yourself. We feel better about ourselves with a sense of some higher mission when we feel we belong to “something,” a movement, cause, or collective aligned with a shared purpose. Renowned philosopher Dan Dennett in a TED talk in 2006 encouraged everyone to dedicate and devote themselves to something more important than themselves to find meaning and purpose in their lives. We’ll let you draw your own conclusions about whether the audience of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors was paying attention. We would add here that the point of communication is not the exchange of information but rather the exchange of understanding. And understanding is what makes belonging matter. Belonging is one of the most powerful operating principles of any organizational culture. Even the outliers and iconoclasts in an organization need to know they belong; they all have a role and a contribution to make to the greater community.

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Leading With Courage

Traditional organizational models with dominating hierarchical structures and command-and-control as the predominant cultural norm inhibit individuals from being courageous. How can we as individuals, employees, leaders, and organizations better manage ambiguity and establish a shared purpose? By ensuring we are manifesting courage individually and allowing open dialogues that reflect critical thinking, constructive criticism, input, and feedback. Courageous individuals take risks that go against the grain of their organizations. They make decisions with the potential for revolutionary change in their markets. Their boldness inspires teams, energizes customers, and positions organizations as leaders in societal change. Courage is not a skill learned in a classroom; it is mastered through life experiences of personal risk taking. If organizations are managed without courageous leadership and courageous individuals, then R&D programs, product pipelines, investments in emerging markets, and employees’ commitment to the company’s mission all wither. These organizations can slip into malaise and may eventually fail, even if their leaders move on to avoid being held accountable.

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