“The best ideas occur to people who are touching multiple worlds and domains.” Justin Berg, Wharton doctoral candidate
Justin Berg is a doctoral candidate studying creativity at Wharton School. While the New York Times was featuring Adam Grant in its Sunday Magazine cover feature, it was Berg’s words that caught my attention. In his book, Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson suggests that it is the collision of hunches that create breakthroughs in thinking. Moreover, Professor Scott Page‘s studies show that groups that display a range of perspectives outperform groups of like-minded experts. As Berg points out in his quote, it is our intentional behavior to reach outside ourselves, to engage with others at the fringes of our own experiences and knowledge, that can conjure the most fertile circumstances for compelling change in ourselves.
In my conversation workshops, I have participants explore attitudes and approaches to empathy, curiosity and vulnerability, among other factors. In many respects, this reflects Adam Grant’s ideas around the many benefits that redound to us from being outwardly focused. The philosopher, Roman Krznaric, advocates for our attention to empathy. When I deliver my conversation workshops, I set the scene by reviewing what we may learn from history, including Socrates’s exhortation that we should know ourselves and live examined lives. Krznaric goes a step further and suggests that to know ourselves requires that we, instead, learn to know ourselves by discovering other people’s lives.
In so stepping outside of ourselves, or being what Krznaric calls outrospective, we come closer to what Page, Johnson and Berg assert, which is that it is our broader, extended engagements with others that can lead to ideas, creativity and harmony. Susan Sontag said, “I… talk – in order to find out what I think.” When we converse with others, we learn to test and evolve our own thinking.
Engagement with others and nurturing our conversational lives is a simple yet remarkable method by which we can achieve innovation, harmony and personal insight.