While scientists frantically work to find a safe, effective vaccine for Covid-19, I’m focused on boosting our immunity to an epidemic of closed-mindedness. I’m not talking about a closed-mindedness born of conviction. I’m talking about a closed-mindedness born of exhaustion. Our brains were not designed to cope with sustained chaos.
Current events have infected us with a malaise. The governing principles of civil society that anchor our identities and our aspirations have come unmoored. When our bedrock assumptions are threatened, we become susceptible to simplistic answers, arrogant leaders, and snake-oil salesmen. We are grateful for any port in a storm.
Some strive to reduce the turmoil and increase predictability, yearning for simpler times. I’m more interested in developing a fitness routine for the way we think. If we can boost our immunity to chaos, we can respond with creativity and compassion rather than paralysis and tribalism.
The current epidemic of closed-mindedness leaves us vulnerable to lies and simplistic platitudes. The most dangerous virus is the one that makes us susceptible to dogmatism and attention-grabbing. Easy answers in difficult times are no answers at all. When our stamina for discernment has been lowered, we accommodate the most easily digestible, the briefest, the loudest, the most outrageous. We become susceptible to messages that light up our limbic system by appealing directly to our emotions. It’s no coincidence that we refer to attention-grabbing media as “viral.”
It seems almost too obvious to say, but for things to improve, something must change. What’s less obvious is that one of the things available to change is how we think. If you’re stuck in freeway traffic, you could improve your situation by having something outside your control change, like a tow truck clearing away a stalled vehicle. You could improve your situations by taking matters into your own hands. You could exit the freeway and pick an alternate route. You could also improve things by changing your attitude about your situation. Instead of thinking of yourself as stuck, you adopt the attitude that you’ve been given a break in your day to catch up on a podcast or audiobook.
Let’s work to prevent the spread of harmful thinking. If you are focused on answering the question, “What should we do?” you are vulnerable to people who pretend to have all the answers. In times of chaos, no one has all the answers. By definition, situations feel chaotic because the usual rules no longer apply.
The chaos, instability and turbulence we’re currently experiencing calls for a particular type of thinking. In truth, our world was becoming more complex and uncertain long before 2020. It’s worth considering whether our lack of stamina for thinking, our attraction to simplistic answers, and our shrinking attention spans are the causes rather than the results of our interlocking crises. Either way, our future may depend on the kind of unfettered thinking characteristic of an unstuck mind rather than the dog-eared playbook of incurious experts.
About Jay Cone
Jay Cone has spent the past 25 years focusing on leadership development, strategic thinking and innovation and is the founder of Unstuck Minds. Prior to joining Interaction Associates, Jay worked in the food service industry as a training manager, Human Resources director, and internal consultant. Jay is a thought leader for Interaction Associates’ work in teams, innovation and strategic thinking. Jay is a regular contributor to Saybrook University’s Rethinking Complexity blog. His articles on strategy and leadership development have appeared in Rotman Magazine, The Journal of Global Business and Organizational Excellence, Training Magazine, and The American Society for Training and Development's Best of Customer Service Training. Jay served on the editorial review committee for David Straus' book, How to Make Collaboration Work, and contributed a chapter on accountability to Leadership for Transformation, edited by JoAnn Danelo Barbour and Gill Robinson Hickman. Jay served for five years on the faculty of the Executive M.B.A. program at The University of Texas at Dallas, where he taught innovation and collaboration. Jay is conducting research and writing a dissertation on organizational strategy formation to complete his Ph.D. program in organizational systems. Jay's current consulting practice focuses on senior team facilitation, strategic thinking, leadership development, and innovation.