If there was a holy trinity of crucial 21st-century skills, I would personally nominate the following: lifelong learning, stillness (of mind as well as of body) and contrarian (or least critical) thinking. The first one is obvious and the second is becoming more so.
But the third may surprise you. Its importance stems from a rise in intellectual and behavioral conformity, as well as the fact that our ‘reality’ can now be manipulated (see Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and of course Facebook).
Perhaps this is the most critical reason of all, however: what we think of as the ‘truth’ needs to be continuously questioned so that it can be validated, updated or discarded.
In the current climate, there is a real value to keeping your mind’s door constantly open to doubt. Uncertainty makes us more receptive to new information and — gasp — to changing our minds when the facts warrant it.
I’ve written before about how many things in our society are no longer true, even though they once were. I’ve come to believe that, in the spirit of constructive skepticism, we now need to continuously ask the following three questions:
What is true?
How do we know (it’s true)?
Is it still true?
I might add another idea, in this same vein: relinquish one of your – or your company’s – most long-standing ideas.
I’ve been very consistent about the need to be a “ perpendicular thinker” and I’d like to think I’ve practiced what I preach. I believe it’s more important to manage your exits than your entrances. I’ve argued that time and attention are more precious resources today than money and power, and I wrote a book on why learning from mistakes is more valuable than studying successes.
For better or worse, I constantly look at society’s sacred ideas and question whether they’re still relevant today. All these years, I was unknowingly following the sage advice of one of the wisest men on the planet. Charlie Munger is the Robin to Warren Buffett’s Batman – the wisecracking sidekick who is less well-known than he should be but just as much a sage as the Oracle of Omaha. One of his most profound ideas is this:
“Any year that passes in which you don’t destroy one of your best-loved ideas is a wasted year.”
So ask yourself: what assumption | idea | habit | workflow do you or your organization currently hold or practice that could use a second look?
I call this a relevance review: is the practice still appropriate? Should it be revised, reinvented or replaced? How many aspects of your life are governed by routines whose chief value is “we’ve always done it
Conclusion: Chances are that there is at least one instance of received wisdom in your life or organization that would benefit from being mothballed. Go out and ‘unlearn’ one of your most loved ideas today and revel in being a rebel.
Pair this with a recent episode of our podcast ‘Boiling the Ocean’ ostensibly asks: ‘How many hockey pucks are there in Canada?’ However, we also dive into a lively discussion of the power of a well-posed question.