Thinking Like A Grown Up

By Fatmanur Erdogan, Hurriyet Daily News, (click here for newspaper edition, Thinking Like A Grown Up)
When we’re young, we go to school to learn the basics: reading, writing, arithmetic. You can see some kids starting to question everything at that age, but most of their time is spent learning facts that everyone around the world accepts, things like the basic multiplication tables, or the definitions of words, or the major dates of World War II.

As we get further along in our education, we spend more time learning how to question. Science class becomes less focused on teaching us facts, and more focused on teaching us how to test and experiment. Writing class becomes less about teaching us how to use grammar, and more about teaching us how to think for ourselves.

By the time we enter the adult world, we pride ourselves on our ability to think independently. But we’re fooling ourselves. Consider a popular ritual many of us go through these days: corporate trainings. In a typical session, the trainer stands in front of a mixed group of professionals, and delivers some presentation teaching them how to act in a particular situation, or how to apply a particular kind of procedure.

Leadership training is a popular version of this, with the larger corporations funneling thousands of employees through training sessions that hold leadership up as a shining example, something we should all aspire to. So many employees walk out of those sessions thinking leadership is the key to an organization’s success.

But if we all led, who would follow? I highly recommend going over to TED.com for a few minutes to watch Derek Sivers talk about what makes a successful movement (http://ow.ly/1uodf). Sivers shows us how a quirky young man dancing alone at a concert sparks a movement that grows to consume an entire crowd. Sivers points out that a leader needs followers, so one man dancing alone is not a leader. He doesn’t become a leader until he gets his first follower. That first follower needs the guts to say, “I believe in your idea”, when everyone else is standing passively on the sidelines. Then, once that first follower joins the leader, more and more followers join the group and a movement starts.

It is not really the leader who makes a movement, it is the early followers. Sivers urges us to respect the followers, and to never overlook the critical role they play.

Sivers makes an excellent point, and yet the corporate trainings we all know and love hold up that initial, lone dancer as the model of leadership. I find it amazing how many people go through those trainings simply accepting what they are told, instead of questioning it from an alternative perspective like Sivers does.

We need to think back to those science classes in school, and remember what we learned about questioning the world around us. A good scientist looks at a piece of information from a variety of angles, questions the conventional wisdom about it, and then tests it to see if there might be a better explanation.

We are educated adults, and we need to hold ourselves that higher standard. Do we really want high school teenagers to be better at independent thought than we are? We need to stop accepting information as-is. We need to nurture our innate inquisitiveness, to expand our knowledge and find what is really true for us. We need to stop accepting the brainwashing, and start expecting conscious learning. We don’t have to be scientists every minute of every day, but we should keep that skeptical, questioning spirit alive, well-trained and easily-accessible.

Like the lone dancer in the Derek Sivers video, there will be times when independent thinking makes you stand alone for a while, while the rest of the crowd waits to see if you are really on to something. But keep the faith in your ability to think independently, and remember that those who make a difference are the ones with the courage to look at the world from a different angle.

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