Stop Fetishizing the Strong Point of View
We have created an industry obsessed with strong points of view, sustained by a power structure that rewards the most confident, most assertive, and loudest voices. Those who don't constantly and readily supply a stream of strong points of view are viewed as weaker employees.
Of course, it's essential to have a strong, confident point of view. Show up to a pitch, a job interview, or a conference stage without one and you won't get very far. Junior employees are encouraged to speak up and represent their point of view. If they fail to do that in the moment, the moment is gone. If you have too many missed moments, people will think you're not engaged, you're not smart enough, or not making your presence felt.
Being voiceless is not an option if you want to get ahead. Ours is an industry of confident assertions, that rewards the confidently assertive.
And yet, creativity requires uncertainty.
Creativity is about making connections between things that others don't readily see. It's thinking something that's never been thought of before. How can certainty deliver that? Uncertainty is the sign that you're creating something never seen before. The more you live in uncertainty, the more extraordinary the idea can be. Uncertainty is where the magic happens.
If you want to talk about your creative output with confident assertion, great, but don't pretend there wasn't a whole lot of uncertainty to get you there. Having a strong point of view at the end is essential, but to have one all the way through the process is to close yourself off to potential. How can you be empathetic to the views of others if you're already so convinced your view is the right one? How can you be open minded when you've already made up your mind? And yet our industry worships those who talk like they invented the world.
Right now our culture values bold opinions over nuance, complexity and doubt. At the start of the pandemic, politicians and the public craved instant certainty from science. The world fell in love with the 95 percent Covid vaccine effectiveness data point. We became uncomfortable with scientific voices that ran counter to the mainstream public health messaging.
Yet, embracing uncertainty is what makes for good science. Creating hypotheses and encouraging peers to debate and poke holes in early thinking is one of the strengths of science and how it ultimately keeps moving forward.
We need to balance the pressure for certainty with the benefits of embracing uncertainty. There's a time and a place for a strong, assertive point of view, but we can't allow that mindset to dominate everything we do. We have to allow room for not having a point of view, for doubt and for diverse voices.
Here are five things we can do to help that happen:
Don't let those with a strong point of view suck up all the air.
Those employees and candidates with strong points of views are often favored by traditional leaders, because that's how they were rewarded growing up in this industry. Seek out those who are comfortable with uncertainty—those who always end up in a good place, but take their time to get there. Be wary of the presentation of tight, simple narratives masquerading as a process. That's rarely how the best ideas are generated.
Once you have a point of view, park it. Develop others.
Create moments in the process where early strong points of views can be aired and parked. You can always come back to them later. Force yourself to develop multiple points of view that have nothing to do with each other. There are many creative ways to solve the same problem. There are many ways to define the problem. Don't let a strong point of view get in the way of a stronger point of view.
Explore the opposite.
Sit with the opposite point of view for a while and don't judge it. Believe that the opposite could be valid, then make a case for it. Question your most firmly held assumptions. Remember that the point is to think about something that's never been thought of before. You won't get there with the same thoughts you've always had.
Discomfort is the place where the greatest growth happens.
A state of discomfort is where we and our ideas grow. Letting ideas emerge out of chaos over time might feel uncomfortable in a world where we all like to feel in control, but it's how some of the best ideas happen. We should cultivate a comfort with that.
Let go of the strength of the point of view.
We think our point of view is real and important. We become attached to it. It becomes part of our identity. But it's nothing more than an ephemeral thought. A point of view is just a point of view. Question why you're hanging onto it with such strength. Soften your attachment to it and see what happens.