Curiosity & Sonder
Why we should lead from a posture of humility and wonder
Have you heard of the word “sonder?” Me either, until a few months ago I stumbled across it while participating with the wonderful humans in the altMBA created by Seth Godin.1 Here’s the definition.
n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.2
It’s more than a feel good emotionally charged roller coaster video.
These videos and these concepts are an invitation to respond to life and business and situations in front of you with a massive amount of humility: you don’t know it all. Just like you, those who you disagree with or don’t fully understand also believe they are right and are rational in their thinking and behavior.
What if for a moment you imagined those you most disagreed with are right?
I believe a central role of a leader, as much as possible, is to hold a posture of ongoing curiosity. That curiosity springs from heartfelt humility. That humility is born out of a realization that we cannot control or know the future. We are fallible.
Seth Godin has said, “The only way to engage with someone is to begin where they are, to see what they see, to gain enrollment in a conversation that leads to forward motion.”
Farnam Street has an incredible quote from the book Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, where author Kathryn Schulz explains our normal response to those we disagree with or don’t understand:
… The first thing we usually do when someone disagrees with us is that we just assume they are ignorant. You know, they don’t have access to the same information we do and when we generously share that information with them, they are going to see the light and come on over to our team.
When that doesn’t work. When it turns out those people have all the same information and they still don’t agree with us we move onto a second assumption. They’re idiots …
My challenge to myself and to you: find someone you deeply disagree with and invite them to sit with you. And then listen. Don’t try and argue and fight. But listen to understand.
Check out my podcast Mission & Margin at www.missionandmargin.co.
Epic Bonus Materials, Links, Videos, and Resources:
For further reflection on this concept and potential life-changing impact: I was shaken the first time I watched this video from Dan Ariely. In this video, behavioral economist Dan Ariely, the author of Predictably Irrational, uses classic visual illusions and his own counterintuitive (and sometimes shocking) research findings to show how we're not as rational as we think when we make decisions. I started to question just about everything after I watched this video.
One of my favorite blogs is Farnam Street, and they have an incredible article on The Art of Winning an Argument. I see quite the connection between what I’ve written above and winning arguments — because the moments we find ourselves fighting to win is often when we need the concepts of humility.
The payoff on how to win an argument? “If you want to win an argument, simply ask the person trying to convince you of something to explain how it would work. Odds are they have not done the work required to hold an opinion. If they can explain why they are correct and how things would work, you’ll learn something. If they can’t you’ll soften their views, perhaps nudging them ever so softly toward your views. It is worth bearing in mind, however, that someone might do the same to you so make sure you can explain why you think what you do.”
Lastly, an image. I don’t endorse postmodernism, but I do endorse a pause to gather perspective before we jump to our final conclusions: