Ideology is toxic to learning. As soon as you begin to believe something, the spirit of inquiry dies. If you believe that climate change is unrelated to human activity, there’s no reason to change your behavior. If you believe that new technology is always beneficial, there’s no reason to question it. If you believe your company is the best in its industry, there’s no reason to improve it. Belief is the surest way to stop imagination, innovation, and progress.
There’s an old adage: “Seeing is believing.” The assumption is that we find it difficult to accept anything as truth until we see the evidence for it. Yet it’s far more likely that, for most of us, believing is seeing. Once we believe something, we’re all too ready to see it as truth. Pyschologists call this phenomenon confirmation bias—a tendency to block out inconvenient facts that happen to contradict our belief system.
A key characteristic of the genius is a strong disbelief system. Instead of starting from belief, the genius starts from a position of curiosity, wonder, skepticism, or iconoclasm. The journey leads from the unknown to the known, and, with luck and perseverance, you’ll discover new information along the way.
The rule is simple: If you’re looking for real knowledge, keep ideology at bay. Pretend you’re an alien with no preconceptions about life on Earth. Lean on belief only when necessary. And even then, think of belief as a placeholder for knowledge—not knowledge itself.
Next week: Do your own projects.
Give full play to the four capabilities of genius
The Rules of Genius is now a book with a bonus section called “How can I matter?” that includes 10 essential rules. Buy here.