Question Conventional Wisdom

June 22, 2010

One of the biggest innovation blockers comes in the form of conventional wisdom. That’s why I always try to question generally accepted ideas or explanations. While not all commonly held beliefs are wrong… all should be questioned. Just because an authority makes a statement or the general public accepts a belief, it doesn’t make it true. It just makes it accepted… at least for the moment. In 1773 King George II said the American colonies had little stomach for revolution. Oftentimes conventional wisdom is simply wrong. The evidence to support this claim seems endless; consider these examples:

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.” ~Charles H. Duell, an official at the US patent office, 1899

“X-rays will prove to be a hoax.” ~Lord Kelvin, President of the Royal Society, 1883

“Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.” ~Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” ~Thomas J. Watson, Chairman of the Board of IBM, 1943

“With over 50 foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn’t likely to carve out a big slice of the U.S. market.” ~Business Week, 1958

“The ordinary ‘horseless carriage’ is at present a luxury for the wealthy; and although its price will probably fall in the future, it will never, of course, come into as common use as the bicycle.” ~Literary Digest, 1899

“There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.” ~Albert Einstein, 1932

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” ~Western Union internal memo, 1876

“Fooling around with alternating current is just a waste of time. Nobody will use it, ever.” ~Thomas Edison, American inventor, 1889

“Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.” ~Dr. Dionysys Larder, professor of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy, 1793-1859

Today these statements seem preposterous. How could experts be so wrong? Did the general public really accept this thinking? Yes. Just like many people do today.

While conventional wisdom is sometimes hard to spot, its defenders often expose it by trying to discredit and suppress people who threaten it… like those with contrary views, new information or alternative answers. When defenders have little evidence or logic to justify their positions, they often attack truth seekers as they represent the greatest threat. In addition, defenders sometimes resort to manipulation, clichés and propaganda to build support for their beliefs. For example, some politicians and their followers chant “Drill Baby Drill” to reinforce the conventional wisdom regarding our national security, independence and need for more oil. While simple repetition proves nothing, it does rally the troops and reinforces conventional wisdom. The ongoing oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has many Americans reconsidering this chant and the conventional wisdom it proclaims regarding the need for more oil.

Whether it’s energy, healthcare, business or an interpersonal struggle you’re going through… it’s important to remain cognizant and not simply default to the quick, simple and convenient answers conventional wisdom offers. While eliminating independent critical thinking may be tempting… it’s rarely a good solution. At some point, conventional wisdom is always confronted by reality. If it aligns well enough, it stays; if it doesn’t, it’s replaced by new thinking. This cycle has been in place since the beginning of recorded history. It is maintained by those who blindly follow conventional wisdom, by those who defend it, by those who question it… and by those who change it and create new realities. Where do you fall within this cycle?

Time Traveling

June 4, 2010

I love time traveling. I’ve done it most of my life. I’m finding the older I get, the easier it becomes. I don’t have a time machine… I just read, think and mostly use my imagination to propel me. Sometimes I travel back in time; other times I project myself into the future. The biggest benefit of time travel is returning to the present with wisdom.

What started me time traveling was realizing many of the people that influence my thinking had left this world before I ever arrived. Compelled to meet and understand my influencers, I started visiting them. After several trips, patterns started to emerge. I found many of my heroes weren’t heroes at all… at least not during their lifetimes. Some were rejected by society. Many were considered radical, dangerous, or even insane. Traveling forward from these places in time, I observed how it took future generations to start understanding the courage, brilliance and insight these individuals possessed. Looking back from the present, it’s hard to believe these people weren’t celebrated. Then again, future generations will see us in the same light… and wonder the same.

During one of my journeys, a great hero of mine from the 1400s explained that expending too much time and energy trying to convince people from your own time period is unproductive. “Think, write and create for the unborn,” he said. “They will come to understand and value your insight and effort.” In his case, no truer words could be spoken… and I told him so. I appreciate his advice and often heed it.

The more you travel, the clearer one thing becomes… time exposes the truth. As it turns out, many past “heroes” weren’t heroes at all. They were popular charlatans, people of privilege or barbaric leaders driven by self-serving agendas. These individuals weren’t whom they claimed to be… or what they were perceived to be during their time. Many were truth twisters and propaganda creators on a mission to gain power and prestige in their lifetime… and were willing to achieve it at any cost. Whether it’s past, present or future one thing remains consistent—leaders need supporters and followers to succeed. Read more

My “Radical” Healthcare Solution

January 30, 2010

Okay, but face it, Michael… you’re a radical, Jim said to me the other night at dinner. The first time I recall being called a radical was back in grade school. It was also the first time I had ever heard the word, and I didn’t know what it meant. Based on my teacher’s tone, and the fact that my thinking didn’t align with others, I assumed it meant something bad. Over time I learned its meaning and looking back on that first experience, my teacher’s use of the word was pretty accurate. It seems I was, and according to Jim, still am a radical.

His accusation came during a discussion concerning healthcare. Jim’s position was pretty simple: Government should stay the hell out of healthcare… period. After a few more statements along the same vein, I realized Jim, like many U.S. citizens, had taken the bait. By bait, I mean the propaganda that has become the faulty cornerstone of the so-called “healthcare” debate. What made me a radical in his eyes is that I didn’t accept it. I was interested in discussing “health” care… not “sick” care. Jim wanted to argue about government involvement, insurance companies, hospitals, drug companies and so on… politics.

When you stop listening to rhetoric and start looking at reality (facts and evidence), most “problems” start looking different. Healthcare is no exception. It has little to do with the issues being discussed in Washington or in the media. Read more