How to Increase Your Intellectual Humility

I am grateful, once again, for Dan Pink and his biweekly Pinkcast. The content is short and sweet, and always contains a nugget or two of useful, actionable information.

Today’s Pinkcast is no different.

According to Dan, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman once said that if he could wave a magic wand and eliminate a single human foible, he would choose overconfidence.

We human beings believe we know more than we really do. We have an unwarranted faith in our forecasting abilities and our intuitions.

But there is an antidote to overconfidence. It’s called intellectual humility.

Intellectual humility is the willingness to recognize that what we think and believe might be wrong. It is about being open and recognizing aware that we all have cognitive blindspots.

Developing intellectual humility is hard, but Pink believes that four questions from Warren Berger’s The Book of Beautiful Questions: The Powerful Questions That Will Help You Decide, Create, Connect, and Lead can help us develop this quality:

  1. Do I think more like a soldier or a scout? Soldiers defend positions, scouts explore new territories.
  2. Would I rather be right or would I rather understand? Long-term knowledge is more valuable than a short-term victory
  3. Do I solicit and seek out opposing views? Instead of saying “don’t you agree”, say, “tell me if you disagree, and explain why.”
  4. Do I enjoy the pleasant surprise of discovering I’m mistaken? Being wrong isn’t a failure; it’s a success. You’ve just learned something new.

Pink notes that intellectual humility is in short supply today; we need more of it, claiming it is the antidote to what ails us.

I think for many of us intellectual humility comes with age; at least it has for me. I’ve become more keenly aware of what I don’t know, and more willing to acknowledge such shortcomings. I view such shortcomings as an opportunity to learn something new, which I always find enjoyable.

Here is what I consider a high-profile example of intellectual humility.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the 10,000-hour rule in his book Outliers. This rule simply states that the key to success in any field is simply a matter of practicing a specific task that can be accomplished with 20 hours of work a week for 10 years, or 10,000 hours.

David Epstein, in his latest book, Range, questions the 10,000 hours rule and offers strong evidence that it is not always the case that such practice will lead to success.

And in a great show of humility (and some good marketing), Gladwell actually has a blurb on the back cover of Range that says the following:

For reasons I cannot explain, David Epstein manages to make me thoroughly enjoy the experience of being told that everything I thought about something was wrong. I loved Range.

If that’s not intellectual humility, I don’t know what is.

Here’s the Pinkcast:

*image from traffic club

16 thoughts on “How to Increase Your Intellectual Humility

  1. Great post, Jim, and thanks for introducing me to the Pinkcast. I think if we all had more intellectual humility, we’d all get along a lot better. But then, as Pink says, I might be wrong. But I’m in good company with Gladwell. I enjoyed reading The Outliers and knew that the 10 000 hours had since been questioned.

    1. Thanks, Norah. I agree; I think we all could use a little bit of just basic humility. I’ve enjoyed every Pinkcast I’ve watched (and there are quite a few of them!) And if you are interested, there are also some videos online of Gladwell and Epstein debating about the 10,000-hour rule.

    1. thanks, LeShawn. As you’ve pointed out a few times on your blog, a lot of good things come with getting older. Too bad we can’t learn some of those lessons at an earlier age.

  2. Range is so powerful! I first read a debunking of the 10,000 hour rule in still yet another book, too, the title of which escapes me at the moment, Jim. But, it just goes to show that Gladwell, beautifully, welcomes discourse, a sign of true cognitive and intellectual humility. Loved this post today!

    1. Thanks, Kara! I agree, Range was a great, as was Outliers. There are also a couple of online videos showing debates between Epstein and Gladwell – good stuff!

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