Being Open-Minded

One thing that successful people have in common is that they are usually very receptive to new ideas — they are always interested in pursuing the next big thing, irrespective of how ambitious that thing is. Successful people become successful because they are cognizant of the fact that you need to take big risks to reach a certain level of success. It is not just about taking risks though, but rather taking the right risks. Therefore, most successful people are interested in talking about and evaluating new ideas because doing so allows them to measure what risks to take, and gives them a starting point for how they can pursue a new idea. The people that do not make as much progress in their personal and professional lives are often closed-minded and interested more in reinforcing what they already think is correct.

Being open-minded is very difficult. You have to be willing to go against the accepted standards and follow a route which can lead to failure. This is a natural part of being open-minded because, after all, some ideas that are presented to you will not be successful. However, being open-minded is a great way to get ahead in both your personal and professional lives. The people who make the most progress are those who are willing to concede the fact that they are not perfect, and are willing to constantly work on new ideas that may seem crazy, but could be big in the future. I find that many people think they are open-minded but in actuality they are not — this makes sense as we naturally do not want to refer to ourselves as closed-minded. There are a couple of main ways in which you can tell if you are closed-minded, and knowing them will help you change the way you think.

Open-minded people are often more willing to be wrong than other people. Open-minded people understand that it doesn’t matter if you are wrong, but rather that you contributed in the first place. Indeed, it is very likely that you will be wrong very often, and so by conceding that you are wrong, then you leave yourself room to change your mind and get on the right side of a problem. Closed-minded people, on the other hand, often think that they are willing to be wrong, but then become annoyed when someone proves that their plan is not the best one. To be open-minded, you need to be able to admit you are wrong.

A key part of this is being humble, which is often acquired from a moment when you were very wrong and want to avoid happening again. Open-minded people are willing to say they are wrong, admit it, and move on with the right course of action. Warren Buffet once said “What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.” which demonstrates the difficulty of accepting that you are wrong — we naturally want to be right — but admitting it and moving on is very powerful and a great way to get ahead.

Most open-minded people are willing to challenge ideas, and are also willing to be challenged. Open-minded people are not interested in being right, rather creating the best possible outcome. This is unlike closed-minded people who are usually more interested in proving themselves right and telling everyone else why they are wrong. Closed-minded people are not willing to ask questions, and are often resistant to answer questions when people challenge their ideas. They think that asking questions is an unproductive use of time and that what they think is how everyone else should think. The main problem with being closed-minded in this sense is that if you are unwilling to challenge ideas, then you will end up pursuing many incorrect paths that you could have detected earlier. Being closed-minded often results in a project or idea being incomplete as well because you have not taken the time to consider the opinions of others and how they think the project or idea could be improved. In sum, open-minded people actively challenge ideas; closed-minded people often don’t.

I have found that open-minded people ask more questions than closed-minded people. Benjamin Franklin is famous for trying to cultivate the virtue of silence. He would try to only talk when he had a valuable insight to share, and would spend the rest of the time listening and taking mental notes about the insights of other people. Open-minded people want to ask questions and listen to as many different perspectives as possible. They are synthesizing information, thinking about new ideas, and willing to be wrong. They are curious about other people and their thoughts, and they want to hear as many different opinions as possible, which will help them create a more informed opinion.

Closed-minded people are more likely to talk rather than ask questions because they think that what they know is right, and so they don’t need to listen to the thoughts of others. And when closed-minded people do listen to others, they are often unwilling to accept anyone who challenges their thoughts, and prepare a rebuttal while they are talking. Asking questions is powerful and it allows us to learn more about other people and how they think. In short, closed-minded people talk more; open-minded people ask questions and share thoughts only when they have something valuable to add.

I have also found that open-minded people spend a lot of their time analyzing how other people think. This is because they want to understand how someone arrived at a different conclusion than them, because it will help them better evaluate the idea that the other person had. An open-minded person would rather ask “why do you think that?” than say “you are wrong because of this…”. The open-minded person knows that understanding other people is a powerful characteristic. Not only does it allow you to develop closer relationships with someone else, but it also allows you to evolve your idea to embody the concerns that other people have, thus making your idea more effective. If you want to be more open-minded, try to ask someone why they don’t understand you or why they think differently to you, and then let their answer inform the future of your discussion or idea. Don’t disregard the thoughts of others.

It can be very difficult to get started being open-minded, but there are a number of benefits to investing in cultivating an open mindset. The best way to get started is to spend your next meeting or conversation listening to others and thinking about your responses. Do you want to talk a lot and confirm your own thoughts? If so, resist and try to listen to others. Are you preparing rebuttals without fully understanding the other person’s argument? If you are, then try to change your mindset toward asking them why they think that. Ultimately, open-minded people understand that the opinions of others are just as valuable as their own, and want to get to know why other people think differently so they can make more informed decisions and develop better ideas.

Being open-minded is an iterative process. You need to continuously reflect on your conversations and interactions. But, it is worth the time. One final note to add is that being open-minded does not mean that you listen to every idea, even if it is clearly a bad idea. Rather, it means that you are more receptive to different viewpoints and interested in the opinions of others. You don’t care about being right, just achieving the best outcome. The best outcome does not come from accepting obviously bad ideas — it comes from focusing on the best ideas that people present. Open-minded people don’t become open-minded overnight, they have to focus, reflect, evaluate, and work hard to maintain that mindset. In the long-run, it is worth it.

Be humble and willing to be wrong. Challenge ideas. Ask questions and listen. Be open-minded.