by Jeremy Nulik
As opposed to punishment by grounding or removing privileges, a friend of mine forces her sons to play poker with her whenever they have made “less than optimal choices.” The stakes are the following week’s allowance. So the kids have skin in the game. Each decision matters.
When she is teaching them the rules of poker, it is common for her to show all the cards. That way the kids can learn the risks associated with decisions and how the cards are judged. Everyone has fun during the learning sessions.
But something odd happens when the not-at-all-metaphorical chips are down. The game gets instantly intense. Her sons want to know the cards everyone has. That way, their bets are sure to win. But that is not the game, of course. Texas Hold’em is not about knowing all the information. It is based on your ability to make decisions with imperfect information – with uncertainty.
This situation should sound familiar to you. Especially over the past year, all of us have had to make decisions with imperfect information. And much like the children in above example, some of us have likely been slamming our hands on the table and demanding all the information.
If we are expected to place bets, and we have skin in the game, isn’t it only right that we should know all the information?
Sadly, the answer is not in having the information, but rather in your posture or emotional intelligence toward the unknown. It is your ability to employ curiosity over defense when faced with the unknown.
Julia Galef, co-founder of the Center for Applied Rationality, refers to the building of this kind of intelligence as cultivating a “scout mindset.” In her book by the same name, she outlines a metaphor that is centered on two characters – the soldier and the scout. The soldier is motivated to defend his or her beliefs. The scout is motivated to explore the terrain. The soldier is full of certainty. The scout uncovers what could be.
Galef claims that we “…need to learn how to feel intrigued instead of defensive when we encounter some information that contradicts our beliefs.”
If you think you do this well, then reflect on the following: When was the last time you changed your mind about something when you were presented with new evidence or challenges? Truly – about something that matters. If you are like most people, you cannot really remember.
Both the soldier and the scout are necessary figures in this all-too-war-like metaphor. I have no data supporting the following hypothesis, but a quick look at any social media feed reveals that a majority of us are more comfortable being the soldier. Having a soldier’s mindset is useful when the terrain is known. But ask yourself, after the year we have had, just how much of that terrain do you think you know?
Before the next wave of uncertainty washes over you and your organization, you can seek to instill a commitment to curiosity and nuance. Such a posture increases your emotional intelligence toward the unknown and allows you to make better sense of a seemingly irrational world.
I have to defend myself against possible threats.
I must be right about my decisions because the stakes are high.
Because the stakes are high, could I be wrong?
What outcomes or possibilities am I really seeking?
Jeremy Nulik (firstname.lastname@example.org) is evangelist prime at bigwidesky, a human business consultancy, in St. Louis, Mo.