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YEAR IN REVIEW

On Thinking Like a Scientist, Practice and Being Kind

Charlie Anastasi
January 2, 2024
5 mins

This is an excerpt from our LinkedIn newsletter, Rize Up. Read the full post here.

Launching Rize Up this year, our goal was to “deliver practical, actionable advice for small colleges from the business world.”

The irony of writing an advice-giving newsletter is that we are constantly looking to others for advice. Ultimately, we saw this as an advantage. Rather than imparting a repository of stored knowledge, we hope you can tell that we are seeking improvement in parallel.

Any “advice” we give is advice we either learned through our own mistakes or collected from the books, podcasts and articles that guide our own thinking. 

So to close out our inaugural year of Rize Up, here are three pieces of advice we learned from excellent podcasts that will continue to influence us in 2024.

1. High-Rung v. Low-Rung Thinking - Tim Urban (podcast)

As we enter another election year, much of the conversation will focus on what people think. Envision the classic left-to-right, horizontal spectrum of political beliefs. 2024 will constantly ask you to place yourself somewhere on this one-dimensional spectrum. 

In What’s Our Problem, Tim Urban encourages us to move past the emphasis on what we think and to instead focus on how we think. Envision that we add a vertical axis to the horizontal political spectrum. The vertical axis distinguishes between low-rung and high-rung thinking.

What’s the difference? Urban compares high-rung thinking to thinking like a scientist. High-rung thinkers might have a hypothesis, but they aren’t married to that hypothesis and constantly revise their beliefs based on where the evidence leads them. They proudly say “I don’t know” when they don’t know and happily change their opinions. When we operate on the high-rungs, disagreement across the “what” spectrum is welcomed. It makes us better. Not just in politics, but at work and in our relationships.

Urban compares low-rung thinking to thinking like a debate team. A debate team is given a conclusion and asked to come up with the best justifications to defend that position. The goal is to win the argument rather than consider alternatives, which leaves us susceptible to confirmation bias and going with the crowd. We let our position on the “what” spectrum do the thinking for us. In the low rungs, we often find our identities deeply connected to our ideas. This ensures any disagreement across the spectrum is a personal affront that leads nowhere productive. Disagreement doesn’t make us better. It makes us never want to go to another Thanksgiving. 

If you are like me, you are probably reading this and quickly aligning yourself to the high-rungs. It’s those other people who can’t engage in productive discourse!

But the reality is that staying in the high-rungs is incredibly difficult and high-rung thinking is fundamentally different from high IQ thinking. A high IQ is actually deceptively undermining. Humans are master self-deceivers, so higher intelligence often means you are simply better at confirming your original bias with clever justifications!

When we offer our perspectives on what we think in 2024, let’s take the time to consider how we got there. If you didn’t change your mind on anything this year, is low-rung thinking winning out (hint: yes)?

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