There are some kinds of work that you can't do well without thinking differently from your peers. A scientist can make the most impact if his or her ideas are correct as well as novel. An essay will be more interesting if the essayist has something unique to say. An investor will find room to make money if he or she has some insights that the market hasn't quite figured out. In most cases, a startup finds success in doing things that are deemed as bad idea.
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Fastidiousness about truth means more than just not believing things that are false. It means being careful about degree of belief.
According to Paul Graham, internal structure of independent-mindedness has three components: fastidiousness about truth, resistance to being told what to think, and curiosity.
In the most independent-minded people, the desire not to be told what to think is a positive force. It's not mere skepticism, but an active delight in ideas that subvert the conventional wisdom, the more counter intuitive the better.
Understanding where you fall in the spectrum from conventional to independent-minded can be tricky. Conventional-minded people don't like to think of themselves as conventional-minded. And the independent-minded, meanwhile, are often unaware how different their ideas are from conventional ones, at least till they state them publicly. But in most cases, if you're naturally independent-minded, you're going to find it frustrating to be a middle manager. And if you're naturally conventional-minded, you're going to be sailing into a headwind if you try to do original research.
Some strategies to follow to cultivate independent-mindedness:
But this pattern isn't universal. In fact, it doesn't hold for most kinds of work. In most kinds of work — to be an administrator, for example — all you need is to be right. It's not essential that everyone else be wrong. And here the distinction between independent-mindedness and conventional mindedness comes into play while choosing the work that fits you.
First, you want to avoid situations that suppress curiosity. The most important active step you can take to cultivate your curiosity is probably to seek out the topics that engage it. Few adults are equally curious about everything. It's up to you to find your niche that sparks curiosity the most.
If your goal is to discover novel ideas, your motto should not be "do what you love" so much as "do what you're curious about."
The third component of independent-mindedness, curiosity, may be the most interesting. To the extent that we can give a brief answer to the question of where novel ideas come from, it's curiosity. That's what people are usually feeling before having them.
When I read history I do it not just to learn what happened, but to try to get inside the heads of people who lived in the past. How did things look to them? This is hard to do, but worth the effort for the same reason it's worth travelling far to triangulate a point.
People often don't really know if they're conventional thinkers or independent thinkers.
Being open-minded is a quality that makes us receptive to a diverse range of ideas, arguments and perspectives that may not align with our own.
If we are not open-minded, we may not be able to think critically or rationally in any given situation, making us unable to see all aspects of a problem and to come up with a balanced solution.
Our culture praises originality and creativity. We want our students to think for themselves and not follow blindly.
But thinking for oneself does not mean zero input from others. It means, first, thinking through the ideas of other people. Creativity depends on copying others' ideas.
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