Overthrowing the inner dictator: why you should love your mistakes and not your ideas

 In a rapidly changing world, the key skill for survival is to be able to question any of your beliefs and knowledge if they contradict new information, to quickly retrain and flexibly adjust your thinking to new data, and most importantly, to learn to enjoy your mistakes. Organizational psychologist Adam Grant writes about how to do this and how to change the thinking of others in his new book, Think Again

Adam Grant is a Wharton School of Business psychologist who has written several New York Times bestsellers, including "Plan B," co-authored with Facebook COO (chief operating officer) Sheryl Sandberg. His TED Talks gather millions of views, and his new book "Think Again" was recently quoted by the head of Boston Consulting Group in a letter to employees urging them to "overthrow your inner dictator" and be more open to new ideas and approaches.

The basic idea of the book, which recently appeared in Russian at Mann, Ivanov & Ferber, is that even the smartest of people need to question their ideas. Paradoxically, it is people with high IQs, he argues, who find this particularly difficult, as they quickly pick up patterns and regularities and can find themselves trapped in stereotypical thinking as a result. Forbes publishes an excerpt from the book.  

Your thoughts are ruled by a dictator

In a classic article, sociologist Murray Davis argues that it is not true ideas that survive, but interesting ones. And what makes them interesting is that they conflict with beliefs that are not the most stable. Did you know that the moon may have formed inside the molten Earth from magma? That a narwhal tusk is actually a tooth? We most often welcome the opportunity to revisit an idea or notion that doesn't mean much to us. At first we wonder ("Really?"), then we show interest ("Tell me more!") and admiration ("Wow!"). But when fundamental beliefs are questioned, we shut ourselves off from the new information and meet it without any curiosity. It's as if we have a miniature dictator living in our heads, controlling the flow of facts to the brain - like Kim Jong-un in North Korea. Psychologists call it a totalitarian ego, and its task is to prevent the existing worldview from being threatened. 

One can well see how the inner dictator goes on the attack on character and intelligence. These kinds of attacks can shake identities, and they are very important to us, and we have a hard time changing them. The totalitarian ego serves as a bodyguard of the mind, protecting our self-image by feeding us sweet lies.

It is a typical response to a threat. Neuroscientists have discovered that in such a situation the amygdala gland, part of the ancient "reptilian brain" that is immune to rational arguments and goes straight to the "fight or flight" reaction, is activated. Anger and fear are felt as deeply as if we were hit right in the brain. And the totalitarian ego in imaginary armor rushes to our aid. We become preachers or prosecutors and try to convert or curse the ignorant. "In other people's arguments we immediately see the weaknesses," writes journalist Elizabeth Colbert. - But we don't see our own flaws. 

This strikes me as odd, because opinion is not an innate trait. Unlike height or intelligence, we can manage our beliefs and test their truth. We choose a point of view and can revise it whenever we like. This practice should become a habit, for all our lives we meet those who will convince us that we are wrong. "I was sure I'd finish a draft of this chapter by Friday." "I was sure it said Fruit Loops on a box of toucan cereal, but it was actually Froot Loops." "I was sure I put the milk in the refrigerator last night, but this morning it was on the table for some reason." 

The inner dictator triumphs by activating a cycle of arrogance. First, the erroneous opinion is built into the information bubble, causing us to perceive only the data that supports it. This triggers pride. Then the beliefs are locked into echo chambers, and we hear only those who echo, approve, and support us. The fortress erected in this way may seem impregnable, but more and more specialists intend to break in.

Questions of Attachment

I recently read a paper at a conference on my study of giving, taking, and sharing equally. I explored how generosity, selfishness, and craving for fairness affect performance in areas such as sales and development. Among the guests was Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize-winning psychologist who has devoted much of his work to proving the invalidity of intuition. After the talk, he expressed surprise at my conclusion that not only were the givers more likely to be wrong than the takers and the fair ones, but that they were also more likely to be successful. 

How do you react to findings that don't meet your expectations? Many people start attacking and looking for flaws in the organization of the research


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