“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”
— Elinor Smith
We tend to think that what we think is true. And because we think something is true, we ignore information that might tell us it’s not true.
Charles Darwin deliberately looked for thoughts that disagreed with his own. He wrote, “whenever a published fact, a new observation or thought came across me, which was opposed to my general results, to make a memorandum of it without fail and at once; for I had found by experience that such facts and thoughts were far more apt to escape from memory than favorable ones.” Darwin was out for truth, not to confirm his view of the world.
“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change,” Marcus Aurelius said. “For I seek the truth, by which no one ever was truly harmed. Harmed is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance.”
Surprises alert you to flawed thinking. When results are not what you expected. When facts disagree with you. When someone does something unexpected. “What surprise tells you,” my friend Adam Robinson says, “is that your model of the world is incorrect.” And when your model of the world is incorrect, you need to figure out why.
When you catch yourself saying “that doesn’t make any sense,” “that shouldn’t happen,” “I didn’t expect that,” you’re surprised. That’s your cue to pay attention.
Surprises are a clue that you’re missing something. Dive and figure out what.