I recently had the honor of speaking at the 75th annual Bretton Woods Conference.
The amalgamation of people was one of the most fascinating I’ve ever encountered in my life, filled with a wide range of perspectives and beliefs, which got me thinking about my own speech I’d prepared, in which I talked about the power of perspective.
At its core, having a point of view, a perspective informed by your experience, isn’t inherently bad. All occupations and life stories help inform our perspectives, and being able to lean into and rely on our expertise can be highly valuable and constructive.
Rigidity of Thought: how do we get out of our own way and discover creative, new approaches to complex problem solving? Here are some ideas! Let me know your thoughts in the comments! #rigidityofthought #holisticthinking #bw75 @gorvitron pic.twitter.com/6ouz65pReP— John Rogers (@_johnrogers360) October 21, 2019
On the flip side, we are all prisoners of our own perspectives.
The knowledge I’ve accumulated throughout my career could help people seeking advice on policy. However, that exact same background can hinder me from understanding another person’s political viewpoint, which could be incredibly valid and important.
No matter how open-minded I try to be, my American upbringing in a left-brain, right-brain household that valued political debates alongside musical performances will forever influence the way I see the world. Conversely, a refugee from Syria will always see the world informed by that perspective. My son, who’s about to become an Officer in the Army, will forever have a changed perspective based upon that experience.
These life experiences shape viewpoints that gel into one unique perspective.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it can be if you don’t understand the limits of your own perspective. What everyone ought to strive for is self-awareness.
Socrates famously advised, “Know thyself.” We must know our own perspectives—the walls we live in and the messages we’ve internalized—because if we don’t, we can become entrenched in our viewpoints. And this entrenchment can lead to rigidity of thought.
Rigidity of thought is the enemy. It’s an existential threat to innovative thinking, creativity, and even problem solving itself, three of the fundamental qualities needed to create a better world.
I see it across cultures every day. I see it in America every day, on every news channel, spanning the political spectrum, and it’s prohibiting us from solving some of our world’s greatest challenges.
As the world has grown more unstable, it becomes easier and easier to retrench. To want nothing more than to go back to the good old days. A simpler time. But unless somebody actually creates Doc Brown’s DeLorean, we can’t go back. And that’s okay, because the truth is that those bygone days we remember weren’t good for everybody and were never that simple.
Maybe the problems of the 21st century seem too vast to tackle, but for sure our collective reaction to them can’t be, “Well this is the way we’ve always done things.” Now, more than ever, we require creativity and open minds, for we’re encountering problems we’ve never faced before on this scale. Climate change, terrorism, and rising gun violence are all issues I believe great thinkers and leaders could solve. It probably wouldn’t happen overnight, but it would happen if we were to shed our rigidity of thought, lean into our own perspectives, and listen to others.
Rigidity of thought is the enemy.
Defeating that enemy, however, is within our grasp. It lies in holistic thinking and mixed tables, which deserve their own blog posts, but in short, they’re about embracing various viewpoints to come to creative conclusions in non-judgmental environments. This is what I saw take place at the conference last week. It was an incredibly humbling and uplifting experience. Saccharine as it seems, it made me think that maybe, someday, we really can assemble those great thinkers and leaders who can leave their rigidity of thought at the proverbial door, and, together, make a better world.