One-Sided Creativity

There’s an author I read, let’s call him Nathan, who is really smart and insightful. When defending his insights, Nathan is brilliantly resourceful and creative. He comes up with new angles and new ways of looking at things that I never considered, and presents a really persuasive case why his ideas are true. But in order to be truly persuasive about a claim, one must address possible counterarguments to that idea. And something odd happens to Nathan when he investigates the counter evidence to his own claims. Suddenly, Nathan loses all of his powers of creativity. Sure, he’s still brilliant and knowledgeable as he works his way down the list of counter-evidence, but all of the creativity falls on one side of the issue: his side. Time and time again he impresses me with creative insights that explain why he’s right, but never once does he come up with a creative or surprising insight about why he might be wrong. Doesn’t that seem odd, that all of the world’s surprises fall in the same direction?

This is the human way to think, but not a very-truth seeking way. We view our own solutions to life’s puzzles through a lens of boundless creativity. We view challenges to our ideas through a lens of boundless pessimism. It’s an odd quirk of the human brain, but self-sabotage is often the goal when researching an opposing idea. We want to find that the idea can’t work. This is one reason why I can’t just trust an Economics Nobel Prize winner to tell me what to think about relevant topics. That beautiful brain might only be running at maximum power when it’s on a track it enjoys. For those of us interested in becoming better thinkers, a shift in mindset is needed. We have to want to find the truth more than we want to be right. We must force our brains to apply the same creativity to all sides of the issue, regardless of where we hope the evidence will lead.

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