You Made Me Think

I’m grateful for human knowledge

Thomas Oppong
Pragmatic Wisdom

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Photo by Erik Sandybaev on Unsplash

I’m here to learn, evolve, and change on my terms. I’m learning a lot from thought-provoking authors and writers on Medium. The highest compliment I can give anyone who writes something I disagree with or publishes a mind-blowing book that makes me think or comment on how I could improve my writing is this: “You made me think.”

The real purpose of great writing or even a book is not to produce consensus. If my goal is to learn, I want insight from all sources. As diverse as they can be. Critical thinking means a lot to me.

“You were right” feels good, sure.

It’s a momentary validation, but it rarely leads to growth. It reinforces existing beliefs, leaving me comfortable but stagnant.

“You made me think,” however, is a different beast.

I’m admitting your perspective, even if I disagreed with it, has shaken my thoughts. Good ideas should expose us to complexity and simplicity. We see the world not just in black and white, but in a spectrum of greys. We realise there might be more than one valid viewpoint, more than one way to approach an idea or an argument.

To make that true for me, I’m trying not to become a victim of what psychologists call binary bias. The tendency to see things only as one or the other, ignoring the vast grey area in between. Or better still, when you force everything into a rigid either/or box.

It feels safe and familiar, like fitting the world into neat little boxes. But the truth is, those boxes often distort reality. They shrink your world and shut down productive conversations.

I don’t want to be limited to “right” and “wrong.” So, I have to constantly battle against the urge to simplify and categorise unnecessarily.

I’m training myself to see the “and” instead of the “or.”

In her book, Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril, Margaret Heffernan argues that “we could know, and should know, but don’t know because it makes us feel better not to know.”

Wilful blindness is a dangerous path for a lifelong learner.

I don’t want to wilfully ignore my blind spots at my own peril. The world changes according to how I see it, and if I alter my lens, the way I see reality will change.

If I can alter my mental models with the right mix of advice, ideas, and mental models, my future will look a lot more holistic. I’m at war with my confirmation bias. I’m blinded by the things I see every day. If I want something to change, I have to change what I see.

Shifting lens is hard work

I’m actively seeking new perspectives, not waiting for someone to agree. I devour essays, dive into podcasts, and engage with people from different walks of life.

I’m saving and reading posts I wouldn’t normally read, buying books I wouldn’t usually purchase, and having conversations with people from different backgrounds — these are the tools I’m hoping will make me think.

The key is to approach everything I’m learning with an open mind. Not to argue or defend, but to listen, to absorb, and to allow my existing lens to slowly shift, piece by piece.

It won’t be easy.

It hasn’t been easy. That’s better.

Confirmation bias is a persistent enemy. But I’m fighting back.

When I catch myself dismissing a fact because it doesn’t fit my narrative, I pause. I go deeper, seeking out credible sources from different perspectives.

With each new knowledge, each new experience, or a great post I read, I’m upgrading my mental model. The future might be uncertain, but with a more holistic lens, I’ll be better prepared to take on tomorrow.

You see, a diverse mental model isn’t just about being “well-informed.” It’s about building mental agility, the ability to adapt your thinking to new experiences. It’s recognising my own blind spots and making that a habit.

Mental upgrades might feel small daily. But with each and different concept or perspective, my mental toolkit expands.

I start noticing patterns I missed before.

The world becomes less black and white and more a spectrum of possibilities. These days, I ponder life-changing decisions from multiple perspectives, thinking beyond first-level thought.

For most big decisions, I go deeper into second and third-order consequences, the ripple effects in the long term.

In his book, Principle: Life and Work, Ray Dalio writes, “Failing to consider second- and third-order consequences is the cause of a lot of painfully bad decisions, and it is especially deadly when the first inferior option confirms your own biases. Never seize on the first available option, no matter how good it seems, before you’ve asked questions and explored.”

First-level thinking only confirms what I already know. Weighing what I know or expect against unforeseen outcomes means I will minimise confirmation bias and be more objective.

For example, if I’m arguing with a friend and say hurtful things in the heat of the moment, the first-order effect is that I will feel relieved to express my anger. The second-order effect is the damage to friendship, making it harder to resolve the conflict in the future.

However, if I were to adopt a second-order thinking approach, considering the many long-term consequences and handling the argument respectfully, I would not only resolve the immediate problem but also make way for a future free of unnecessary conflicts.

This is the power of second-order thinking. It’s how I reduce errors in judgment and avoid bias or unintended consequences.

It’s amazing how other minds can make you think if you are open to it. I’m prepared to adapt, to learn, to grow. Maybe you, like me, are battling your own set of confirmation biases.

Maybe your mental model could use another perspective. However you choose to move forward, keep an open mind. Seek out diverse perspectives. Read widely, even posts and books you don’t like. The more we learn and grow, the better we become at doing things meaningfully.

In the words of author Eric Butterworth, “I am not what I think. I am thinking what I think.”

Other minds are making me think.

I’m grateful for human knowledge.

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Thomas Oppong
Pragmatic Wisdom

Making the wisdom of great thinkers instantly accessible. As seen on Forbes, Inc. and Business Insider. For my popular essays, go here: https://thomasoppong.com