Founder and CEO of The Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative, providing entrepreneurial mindset education and professional development.
We all hate to be wrong. It’s an unpleasant experience that most of us would prefer to avoid. In fact, we often go to great lengths to defend our beliefs — even when they may be holding us back. As Mark Twain once said: “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”
In his book, Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, the Organizational Psychologist Adam Grant describes the three most common modes we use to defend our beliefs: those of preachers, prosecutors or politicians. According to Grant, when we’re in preacher mode, we’re convinced we’re right. When we’re in prosecutor mode, we’re trying to prove that others are wrong. And when we’re in politician mode, we’re trying to win the approval of others.
Rather than defending our beliefs, Grant suggests we learn to think more like scientists trying to get to the truth. “Thinking like a scientist involves more than just reacting with an open mind,” he writes. “It means being actively open-minded. It requires searching for reasons why we might be wrong—not for reasons why we must be right—and revising our views based on what we learn.” In other words, regardless of position, he’s asking us to embrace the joy of being wrong.
The Joy Of Being Wrong?
Sometimes the beliefs we most need to challenge are those of which we may not be aware. Very often, it’s not our explicit beliefs that hold us back; it’s our implicit beliefs and taken-for-granted assumptions that limit our ability to learn, to lead and grow. The question is, how do we challenge the self-limiting beliefs that we don’t even know we have? The answer lies in learning how to think like an entrepreneur.
I’ve spent more than 10 years exploring the mindset and the methods of everyday entrepreneurs, those who start with little or nothing yet somehow manage to succeed. What I discovered is that much of the secret to their success lies hidden in their underlying beliefs. Among the most potent is the belief that “by solving problems for others, they can empower themselves.” This subtle underlying assumption lies at the core of an entrepreneurial mindset. For most, it’s a deeply held belief of which they are largely unaware, yet it is a belief that can have a profound impact on their lives.
This subtle idea arouses a sense of curiosity, thus creating a powerful incentive to learn. From this perspective, the budding entrepreneur sets out in search of problems to be solved. They intuitively understand that the more useful they become, the better off they are likely to be. As a result, they take it upon themselves to figure out how to increase their usefulness and are therefore less constrained by job descriptions or academic degrees. They also assume that opportunities lie hidden in the form of unarticulated needs that are invisible to the untrained eye.
From this perspective, entrepreneurs tend to learn by doing rather than through conventional means. Instead of careful planning and in-depth research, they discover opportunities through observation, experimentation and adaptation. The lack of available resources forces them to test their ideas on a small scale and learn from the results, thus creating an error-based feedback loop that exposes opportunities that others overlook. In other words, they tend to think like scientists searching for evidence of the value of their ideas rather than preachers, prosecutors and politicians convinced of their beliefs. While this logic may seem obvious, it is distinct from how most of us have been taught to think.
Almost from the moment we set foot in school, we learn that someone else has determined what we need to learn and do in order to become successful and are expected to memorize facts and follow the rules. Without realizing it, we often learn to assume that someone else will determine what is useful and that they will be expected to fulfill a predetermined role. We also learn that failure is something to be avoided at all costs. As a result, our innate desire to learn begins to wane. Slowly and subtly, an employee mindset begins to emerge.
“One learns by doing a thing, for though you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try.” (Sophocles)
Obstacles To Growth
The greatest obstacle to growth is either the belief that opportunities do not exist or that we are not capable. Yet, these beliefs often become so deeply ingrained that we are not aware of them, much less their impact. Without realizing it, we come to believe that the world is the way it is and that we are who we are, and there is nothing we can do about it. That is to say, we develop an external “locus of control.” And when that happens, we not only blind ourselves to the opportunities that are hiding in plain sight but also to the innate untapped potential that lies within.
Entrepreneurship is the self-directed pursuit of opportunities to create value for others. By creating value for others, we can empower ourselves. Embracing this way of thinking is not limited to those who want to start a business. It does not require big ideas, access to venture capital or an advanced degree. Nor does it require us to mortgage our house, quit our job or drop out of school. It simply requires us to search for new ways to make ourselves useful, to be open-minded, to test assumptions and learn from our mistakes. As Sophocles suggests, it requires us to try.
In the process of doing so, we are not only likely to discover opportunities that are hiding in plain sight but also to discover that we are capable of more than we thought. And when that happens, we discover the joy of being wrong.
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