“Blacks have had to learn to protect themselves by being cynical but not cynical enough to slam the door on potential opportunities. We go through life walking a tightrope to prevent too much disillusionment.” — Jackie Robinson
It should be no secret that trust issues have been on the rise since Drake entered the rap game in 06’. Beyond the catchy lyrics we recite, a lack of trust is prevalent in many communities of color. Personally, I often find myself questioning people's motives; I’m unsure if they are interested in my success or my downfall, which ultimately results in many of my friendships remaining at a surface level, though no fault of Drake, but of personal experiences that have affected my ability to trust people.
Initially, I believed my inherent paranoia was my street sense--in other words, a requirement to survive in what I perceived as a cold world (no blanket). However, street smart is defined as having practical intelligence and knowing how to handle oneself in any situation. Without realizing it, I had taken the definition of street smart out of context and become cynical - distrustful of human sincerity or integrity. Moreover, being a cynic not only constrained my ability to develop healthy relationships, it also led me to slam the door on opportunities.
CRITICS VS CRITICAL THINKERS
Missed opportunity, whether it be learning or professional, is often a result of someone assuming they have performed a critical analysis when in fact they have only been a critic. The difference is critics look for flaws and try to poke holes in every argument. A critic’s goal is to nit-pick details and discredit. On the other hand, critical thinkers seek understanding and to apply what they’ve understood. They do not dismiss people or information rather are open to learning and exploring new ideas. Critics analyze to find flaws while a critical thinkers analyze to learn.
At the surface the two may appear the same, but critics can’t learn from failure as they operate under the assumption that only people they like or consider successful are credible. While critical thinkers can learn from anyone and any situation. The critical thinkers ability to have an open mind enhances their intellectual curiosity which I and many others believe is a distinguishing factor between those that merely survive and those that thrive.
ACCESS TO OPPORTUNITY
In an era of tremendous technological advancements, being anything but intellectually curious is career suicide. The old saying, is more accurately stated “it’s not who you know but who is willing to put you on”. Knowing the bouncer at a club doesn’t mean you will get in for free or even get in at all, other factors may weigh in. This is the same for information and opportunity, subconsciously we tailor our conversations to the individual. For example, my decision to discuss blockchain / crypto-assets with a person does not depend simply on if I know you or not, other factors weigh in such as where I perceive you fall on the open-minded to close minded scale. As someone who would prefer to avoid unnecessary conflict, I won’t discuss crypto with a person I perceive as closed-minded because the discussion will likely lead to an argument. I’m not saying I don’t want to be challenged. The natural learning process requires it. The issue is discussing with someone that already has their mind made up and is not open to new information or a new way of thinking.
If people perceive you as not open to learning new things they will not present you with opportunities, which can be detrimental to your career. Statistics show that non-entry-level placements are increasingly becoming filled by referrals and, arguably, the higher up you go, the more weight this statement holds. A few years ago, the keynote speaker at an event told me the job you want will never be posted online. The only way to get the opportunity is having the right relationships and ultimately demonstrating your intellectual curiosity.
If you are wondering where you fall on the spectrum Ray Dalio, in his book Principles, describes the difference between someone with an open-mind and closed-mind:
- Close-minded people don't want their ideas challenged; open-minded people are not angry when someone disagrees.
- Close-minded people are more likely to make statements than ask questions; open-minded people genuinely believe they could be wrong.
- Close-minded people focus much more on being understood than on understanding others; open-minded people always feel compelled to see things through others' eyes.
- Close-minded people lack a deep sense of humility; open-minded people approach everything with a deep-seated fear that they may be wrong.
CHANGE IS GONNA COME
Currently, it takes less than a year for human knowledge to double and it’s expected to decrease to less than a day due to new technologies like the “internet of things”. In the past when it took decades for information to double, not adjusting with the times was ok because progress was slow. However, because information is doubling faster this is no longer the case.
The average lifespan of a company listed on the S&P 500 - the 500 largest public companies in the US - has fallen from almost 60 years in the 50s to less than 20 years currently and is expected to be 12 years by 2035. Case in point, Netflix was founded in 1997 and 13 years after its creation it’s largest competitor Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy. Uber released it’s app in June 2010 and by 2017, 7 years later the ride-hail apps generated 65 percent more rides than taxis in New York. Also noteworthy, in June 2013 a New York Taxi and Limousine medallion sold for $1.05 million and in April 2017 it sold for $241,000, less than 75% of what it was 4 years prior...crazy I know. Disruption is happening faster and faster, so as technology continues to advance, the takeover timeline of the old system or “the way things always worked” will continue to decrease. And because companies are run by people, we are also subject to such takeovers.
You may be wondering how do I protect myself? Well first, I would argue that you are asking the wrong question as it demonstrates a passive/defensive approach to a recurring problem. Rather opt to be at the cusp of innovation vs. reacting to it because innovation always wins. This mental shift starts with a decision to be intellectually curious, which requires avoiding extremism, focusing your curiosity, and being an attentive listener.
Move Away From Absolutes:
To make good decisions, a person must have the ability to explore different points of view and different possibilities, regardless of whether it hurts your ego.” ―Ray Dalio
Summer 2016 in between graduating and starting my full-time job I got my life insurance license. During that time period I attended weekly team meetings where I got a lot of free game from Douglas Eze, author of Creating Generational Wealth. While preparing for my exam I learned the 3 main types of life insurance: term, whole life, and universal life; and from the meetings I developed a deeper understand of their differences. Indexed universal life being one of Douglas’s favorite strategies to use for his clients led me to believe it was ALWAYS superior to the other two types. So when I came across material on the internet that spoke against universal life I began to question what I had learned. However, soon after I remembered that Douglas said he also used term and whole life for some clients. What I failed to realize was his recommendation was based on the clients needs and despite all the pros of indexed universal life sometimes it was not the best solution for a client. This realization led me to the understanding that in business as well as in life, everything has its place and purpose along with pro’s and con’s. The issue arises when things are not used for their intended purpose. Many of us only see the pros in our perspective and the cons of the opposing one. Getting away from absolutes is the only way to see the full picture. So move from thinking in terms of good and bad to correct purpose and incorrect purpose. This mental shift will allow you to be more of a critical thinker.
Although knowledge is great, applied knowledge is always better. Therefore you intellectual curiosity should be governed and disciplined to avoid being a jack of all trade at worst or Jeopardy winner at best. Personally, I think our curiosity should be aimed in two directions.
- Be curious about what is happening in your field. For example, if you are a hairstylist you should know how your industry and the related industries are changing and what new business models have emerged (i.e. Mayveen)
- Be curious about emerging technologies. New tech is affecting every industry. Even as a hairstylist you should have a basic understanding of the top emerging technologies such as Internet of Things (IOT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Blockchain, etc. In the early stages of new tech, the use cases are very limited as people are still trying to find problems it can solve. However, as time progresses additional use cases become clear and begin disrupting unexpected industries. For example, when Apple first debuted the Ipad in April 2010 the initial customers were business professionals, Apple product lovers, and tech junkies. A few years laters a new major customer emerged, the school systems, as they began adopting tablets in an effort to transition from textbooks towards E-books. I imagine that McGraw-Hill, one of the biggest publisher for the K-12 school market, didn’t think a tablet would start affecting its bottom line but it did significantly. And it forced them to revamp their entire business model.
Nonetheless, one way to stay ahead of the curve, as I mentioned in the FRIENDS article, is going to events where you can get the sparknotes from people working full-time in the space. These individuals will guide and equip you with what you need to further your learning.
Ask Questions…And actually listen:
“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” ― Albert Einstein
The ability to listen attentively is truly an art and is key to having intellectual curiosity. Since my freshman year of college I’ve had dozens of 30 min coffee meetings. And when I reflect, I find that the best conversations where when I was not to focused on asking a question by actually engaged in the conversation. Understanding the essence of communication and practicing the fundamentals is a way to mechanically develop your intellectual curiosity overtime.
Recently I was watched the Charlamagne Kanye West interview. Paying attention to how Charlamagne communicates I picked up three tactics. First, ask follow-up questions to dig deeper into someones response. Second, clarify your understanding by either restating what the person said in your own words or providing an example that demonstrates how you can relate. Third, become comfortable with silence and transitions. Don’t feel the need to speak every second and don’t over discuss one topic know when it’s time to transition to the next one. Nonetheless, at the core of intellectual curiosity is learning and learning starts with effective communication.
In November I met a 21 year old recent NYU grad that bought Bitcoin when it was under a penny because one of his friends told him to. He said, “I will never have to work again in my life if I don’t want to #HumbleFlex”. In the moment several thought came to my mind, first I have to go to work tomorrow and second where was I and why didn’t I have friends to tell me to buy bitcoin when it was that cheap. A couple months after I realized I was asking the wrong questions because I had heard about Bitcoin when it was still under $500. Someone in a class briefly mentioned it and sophomore year of college I spent an entire week doing a case study on digital currency for my internship. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the intellectually curious to look into it. It’s clear that even if I was presented with the opportunity that I wouldn’t have taken advantage.
I tell this story not because I want you all to invest in Bitcoin, rather to illustrate that it wasn’t the decision that took my friend from no net worth to being worth over 100 million but his mindset - one of intellectual curiosity. We will all have our own rainbow with a pot of gold at the end, the question is do you have the mindset to recognize it when it’s in front of you. Don’t miss out on your good fortune because of cynicism or a lack of curiosity. Be open-minded because it’s a key to thriving in your career and the only way to survive in the digital future.