The Power of an “Open & Creative Mind” in Difficult Times

How being curious and embracing the new may be the answer to many of your problems

Erik P.M. Vermeulen
Jun 30 · 5 min read
Street Art in Eindhoven, The Netherlands

We are all open-minded. At least, we like to think we are. Everyone wants to believe that they are open to new ideas and that they are unprejudiced. Being open-minded seems to matter to us. And we don’t like to be told otherwise.

But most people do not possess these qualities. Think about the people you know. How many would you describe as genuinely open-minded? Not many, I suspect.

There is a big gap between how we see ourselves (flexible and accommodating) and how others often see us (rigid and intolerant).

Part of this is to do with the power of the situation. We are open-minded about some things and closed minded about others. It all depends on the circumstances.

We become more closed minded, the less familiar we are with something. Uncertainty — a lack of knowledge or experience of a situation — feeds closed-mindedness. We become more defensive, the less we know.

But we also become more closed-minded when we feel stress or are under pressure. Anxiety also feeds a closed-minded attitude.

Uncertainty and tension. “Difficult times” make it challenging to maintain an open mind.

And we currently live in difficult times. I am interested in new technology, so let me frame this in terms of the uncertainties and anxieties of the ongoing technological revolution.

There is a lot of talk about the threat of technology. Many jobs will be lost as a result of automation. Established brands are disrupted at lightning speed. Consumer behavior is changing. What and how we teach will be more and more outdated.

And there is more. In the modern world, we regularly hear about burnouts and peer pressure. We can (and have the feeling that we must) be available 24/7. Technology enables us to be connected every minute of the day. We don’t enjoy life anymore. We don’t interact with other persons (or, at least, only through social media).

Our only interaction is with and through machines. Sensors will measure how we feel and adjust our environment. We will let “intelligent” machines “run our errands.” Machines will tell us what to do, what to watch. How to dress, how to behave. Machines will dominate our lives (are already dominating our lives).

This can easily sound terrible. But the problem here isn’t with the technology. We shouldn’t fear the explosive growth of new tech. What we should fear is having the wrong kind of attitude towards the technology.

We need to recognize the power of having an open mind. Because an open mind is a creative mind and a creative mind is the key to flourishing in our tech-driven world.

After all, many of the issues in the modern world don’t exist if you are open to — or, better yet, actively embrace — the change. If you have an open mind. If you think out-of-the-box. If you accept the new and unexpected. If you are creative.

For a start, being curious and open to the new will make you the most wanted collaborator. It means that you are open to co-creation. And it is co-creation that will help us move faster and make better decisions under conditions of uncertainty.

In order to be smart about the new technologies and to make sure that ethical questions are adequately addressed, we need everyone to be involved and feed the “crowd.” We need to be curious, critical, creative and collaborative in finding the best solutions. This is what the new world is about. This is what decentralization is about.

For sure, the digital transformation means that the old days of stasis are over. We cannot sit back and relax anymore. We cannot build a career, settle and quietly enjoy life. Those days are gone.

Last week, I was in Kuala Lumpur, speaking about leadership. What kind of leadership is necessary for companies to remain relevant, be competitive and successful in a digital age? It didn’t take long for the audience to realize that a crucial ingredient was having an open and creative mind.

Companies need leaders who are willing to listen. Leaders who are open to change. Leaders who believe in a “best idea wins” culture. Leaders who encourage curiosity. Leaders who are context driven.

I am in the lucky position to travel, see new places in the world, and speak to many kinds of audience. Young. Old. Established. Entrepreneurial. Traditional. Quiet. Loud.

And what I find is that new ideas land so much better in emerging and fast-growing economies. With younger students. With people who see the urgency of change. I love talking to audiences who believe emerging technologies can solve most of the world’s most pressing problems. Inequality. Poverty. Pollution. Audiences who see and feel the amazing opportunities that our difficult times present to us.

But I also see the opposite. The more established and settled the crowd, the less knowledgeable and open they are to innovation and the power of new technologies.

Uncertainty, anxiety, and entrenched interests. The perfect combination for a closed mind.

Perhaps this would all be OK if the world wasn’t changing at such a rapid pace. But denial in a fast-changing world is a dangerous thing. It can lead to frustration, anger, or depression. No matter how many seminars you attend. How many courses you follow. It all is a waste of your time if you don’t have an open mind. If you only want to hang on to what you already know.

If you only attend these events to find comfort, to hear that your world will not be disrupted, don’t go. It will make you angry and frustrated.

And I don’t say that you have to believe everything you hear or see. Not at all. An open and creative mind means that you have to be critical as well. But being critical doesn’t mean being in denial. Being critical doesn’t mean that you want to defend the status quo. Being critical doesn’t mean that you have to dismiss new ideas and different views.

So, just remember that curiosity and an open and creative mind are extremely powerful. They can provide you with new opportunities that lead to new, and unexpected, paths. We are living in a fast-changing world in which a permanent curiosity is the only way forward. And believe me, an open mind will make you happier. It will give you more energy.

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Erik P.M. Vermeulen

Written by

Fascinated about how new technologies are turning the world upside down. Sharing what I learn as a writer, teacher, and traveler.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +537K people. Follow to join our community.

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