As you begin planning for 2020 and the decade ahead, here are some inspirations to help lay the mental foundations for success. After analyzing some of the high achievers of our time — Jeff Bezos, Ray Dalio, Admiral William McRaven and more — and interviewing top experts in persuasion, rationality, and cognitive psychology, Al Pittampalli discovered habits that have accelerated their paths to success. These practices of persuadable leaders, as he calls them, can do the same for you.
In an uncertain world, successful leaders are moving toward a more adaptive way of thinking: persuadability. Persuadability is the genuine willingness and ability to change your mind in the face of new evidence. Being persuadable requires rejecting absolute certainty, treating your beliefs as temporary, and acknowledging the possibility that — no matter how confident you are about any particular option — you could be wrong.
Yet, even those who are convinced of the benefits of being persuadable may hesitate to change their minds. Deep down, we associate changing our minds with weakness of character. For evidence, look no further than the language of successful leadership. Strong leaders “stay the course.” They “defy the critics.” They “prove them wrong.” These phrases resonate with us because we’ve been led to believe that conviction is the heart of integrity. To change your mind is to “flip-flop”; to doubt your own beliefs is to “lack a core.” All too often, leaders who are persuaded by others are labeled “pushovers” or are accused of “caving in.” With these falsehoods in the way, it’s difficult for leaders to revise their strategies. Here are several ways to prepare yourself to receive new ideas.
» Consider the Opposite
If being persuadable means changing our minds in the face of evidence, the first thing we have to be able to do is to spot evidence when it crosses our desk. Noticing evidence that supports our current beliefs is easy, but when it comes to counter-evidence — information that cuts against our current hypothesis, theory, or opinion — it can be devilishly difficult.
» Update Your Beliefs Incrementally
It’s not easy to think in shades of gray all the time. Occasionally when I explain this method to people, they’re horrified by the idea. It seems exhausting, they say. Others think that by constantly shifting your beliefs, you could never be sure about anything, thus making you a slave to uncertainty. But thinking in shades of gray, although awkward at first, is the opposite of slavery. It’s complete freedom — the freedom to follow the evidence wherever it may lead.
» Kill Your Darlings
What are favored beliefs? Put simply, they’re ideas about the world that we want to be true. For this reason, when faced with threatening information about our favored beliefs, remaining open-minded is a challenge. The advice, embraced time and time again by great writers for decades, has been: Kill your darlings. Crass perhaps, but for good reason: It underscores the idea that discarding a favored belief is supposed to feel painful, twisted, even unholy. There is a point to the loss; it’s in service to a greater purpose, improving the totality of the work. The gain outweighs the loss.
» Take the Perspectives of Others
To lead effectively, we need to be understood. But to be understood, we need first to understand. People are complex creatures, and we can’t communicate with and influence them effectively if we don’t know their interests and positions. Often, the way we think they see the world isn’t the way they see the world — we need to take that person’s perspective.
» Avoid Being too Persuadable
Always maintain at least a token willingness to change our minds. Steve Jobs understood this concept intimately. Yes, he was legendarily relentless in his focus. Jobs once boasted about the number of products Apple had (at the time less than 30) compared to the size of the company ($30 billion), explaining, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.”
» Convert Early
As a leader, if you want to change the world, the quickest and most powerful way is often not to persuade others — it’s to be persuaded yourself. Often, for an idea to cross the chasm, a few brave men and women must be persuaded to convert early on without many (or even any) references in their peer group. These individuals take a huge risk because they are defying the social norms of their group. But by doing so, they serve as key references for other early majority members, increasing the likelihood that others will adopt the idea, and thus helping the innovation cross the chasm. Every social movement needs insiders in skeptical precincts to act as champions. Become one of those champions. Remember that the quickest path to changing the world is often changing your own mind. The group that you have the most power to influence is your own tribe. And with great power comes great responsibility.