What would you say is the most disappointing societal change in your lifetime? I’m not talking about wars or long-term human problems like racism. I’m talking about some change that has happened in your lifetime that has made the world worse, not better. For me – and get ready to be shocked – possibly the most disappointing change has been the internet.
Actually, I’m not disappointed by the internet as much as disappointed about what we’ve done with it or, more appropriately, what we have NOT done with it.
I could write about the benefits of the internet for the rest of my days and never scratch the surface. The fact that I’m writing this post 39,000 feet above sea level is not lost on me, nor the fact that I’m returning from the Silicon Valley where the internet helped turn a series of former fruit orchards into a place where small houses cost a cool million (if you can even find one at that price).
Here is my gripe: the internet promised us connectivity and information flow. It promised to break down information silos. In it’s earliest days, we were contemplating a future where any of us could get any information and humanity (we assumed) would be better informed.
We would understand complicated concepts with greater ease. We would make better economic and political decisions based upon a shared understanding of the world.
Ok – maybe we didn’t believe it all exactly that way, but the degree to which the internet has served to erect rather than remove barriers has been a surprise to me, although I have a suspicion that a time-traveling George Orwell and other great authors wouldn’t be overly surprised.
As the network grew, the niches grew and became more apparent. The human weakness of committing confirmation bias has led us to be segmented into communities of the like-minded. As a result, fissures between people seem to be deepening.
This blog is a place where we focus on topics like leadership, innovation, balance, and personal effectiveness, and do so with an abundance mentality which flows from a deep sense of optimism. So let’s turn our attention in two directions: first looking in the mirror and then looking forward.
We’ve all heard Ghandi’s exhortation to “be the change you wish to see in the world”. With that in mind, here is a link to an HBR article from Al Pittampalli, author of the book Persuadable. The article begins this way:
“When we think of great leaders, certain characteristics come to mind: They have confidence in their abilities and conviction in their beliefs. They “trust their gut,” “stay the course,” and “prove others wrong.” They aren’t “pushovers,” and they certainly don’t “flip-flop.” But this archetype is terribly outdated. Having spent three years studying many of the world’s most successful leaders for my new book, Persuadable, I’ve learned one surprising thing they have in common: a willingness to be persuaded.”
If that is true – and I believe to my core that it is – then I challenge all of us to demonstrate the ability to be persuaded about something.
I’m not talking about nodding your head and murmuring “I see…” as if you have an open mind (but don’t). I’m talking about entering into a topic within your company, your family, your social circle and see if you can be persuaded to change an opinion and act accordingly. Of course, this is a particular issue in our political world today and is likely the best (and possibly most difficult) area where you can take your “persuadability” out for a test drive.
Of course, all of us understand the difference between someone who is persuadable and someone who can’t make up their mind or lacks the ability to defend an idea. Someone who is adamant in their opinions and unpersuadable has a steering wheel that is in the locked position. They can only drive one direction. On the other hand, people who can’t make up their mind have no steering wheel at all. They just drift.
It is only the thoughtful-but-persuadable who have a steering wheel that actually works.
Since there is so much that is great about the internet, it’s easy to be optimistic about where it’s going. While I haven’t called out the mobile revolution specifically, as the offspring of the internet it has the potential to enfranchise vast swaths of the bottom billion. It’s stunning to contemplate.
I expect the “belief silos” created by the internet will continue to be a problem for the foreseeable future. However, I draw my optimism from this: none of us has any real appreciation of how early we are in this tech journey. What do toddlers do when they start to walk? They terrify their parents when they start lurching in the general direction of the coffee table or the brick fireplace.
That’s us and the internet right now. We’re in our toddler phase. But time passes, we learn, and we walk. Even if vast swaths of people remain stuck in their biases, there will be those who will see a more excellent way and use the internet to open their mind, cultivate their persuadability, and use the resulting influence that flows from that growth to lead people toward a worthy objective.