People confronted with the fast changes in our sometimes chaotic and uncertain world can have the reflex to close themselves off to the unknown. Consciously or subconsciously they adopt a closed mind. When we do it collectively this closeness can become part of our culture. People, teams, organizations, and whole societies can seriously suffer from ‘closed-mindedness’. Those who manage to cultivate and maintain an open mind are far more successful on the long run. Why? Let me explain in short.
The open mind is driven by curiosity and wonder
The open mind does not take life for granted. It wants to explore life. The open mind is genuinely interested in new experiences. It is not afraid of the unexpected. It is fascinated by it and wants to understand it, learn from it. The open mind is comfortable with differences and with using a variety of lenses to view the world around.
The open mind is a free thinker. It is willing to step outside fixed patterns. It is attentive not to fall into the trap of prejudices and self-fulfilling prophecies. It deliberately looks for different opinions as a source for new insights.
The closed mind on the other hand experiences change as destabilizing. It is directed by a fear of the unknown. It does not feel comfortable with differences and divergent views. It appreciates the status quo, with prefixed views and likeminded believes and opinions.
The open mind learns faster
The open mind has a natural tendency to move out of its comfort zone to find new experiences. It is motivated by new experiences because they offer opportunities for learning and personal growth. It is often a good listener and develops empathic ability. This helps to learn faster.
The closed mind seeks comfort in what is known/familiar. Therefore it has a natural tendency to stay inside its comfort zone, which limits its learning opportunities.
The open mind understands the closed mind better than vice versa
The open mind, that learns faster, has an advantage over those who don’t. When confronted with changes, or with different opinions, the open mind more easily makes sense out of it. It does not always have the same opinion or beliefs about things, but it understands the differences better. The open mind is intrinsically more focused on building bridges, rather than on building fortresses.
The closed mind’s thinking is based on preconceptions, which can be wrong or outdated and can trigger wrong conclusions. It has more difficulty with letting go of its own views, and with understanding different opinions and changes. The closed mind has a hard time with building bridges.
The open mind develops and grows faster
The open mind challenges itself to understand more things, and sees more easily how things are connected. This gives the open mind a strong edge over others:
- A stronger ability to adapt to changing circumstances
- Building up more and broader knowledge that leads to better decision making
- Higher resilience when things are not going as expected
- Faster and more effective execution of ideas and decisions that are outside the comfort zone
History is filled with examples of the positive outcomes of open-mindedness. It can transform people, organizations, and whole nations. Like for instance China, that for centuries was a closed society with hardly any outside influence. But it experienced a significant prosperous and war free period in the 16th century when it opened its borders for international relationships, trade, and science, which brought new crafts, crops, literature, and cultures to the empire. Or like for instance the way Nelson Mandela dealt with the differences in his country after years of imprisonment by his fellow countrymen. Or like Abraham Lincoln, who appointed a few of his biggest enemies in his government because he believed they would make the team stronger.
But also for instance the way a company like Lego that was close to bankruptcy in 2004 and reinvented itself by opening up to internet-oriented game technology. It chose to totally revise its strategy and to develop new methods of interacting with its youthful customer base through new Lego-designing competitions and contests, with great success.
In fact, all successful innovation finds its roots in an open mind! (Read Elon Musk’s take on this)
Fostering an open mind is vital, and maybe especially in today’s fast changing world. This applies to every one of us in our daily lives, and also for organizations that want to create sustainable success.
How do you keep an open mind? How is this affecting the way you live and work together with others? Or as a leader, how do you stimulate a culture of open-mindedness? Feel free to comment!
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Photo: Mark Stroble/Flickr (Creative Commons)
Aad is a global business advisor, change leader/program manager, executive team facilitator, leadership coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with senior executives and their organizations globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad, our services, and his keynotes. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization contact us.