A few years ago, we had the privilege of being in Oxford, listening to various topics being debated by a group of very verbal 16-year old students.
What an amazing experience it was, what incredible flexibility of mind these teenagers were able to convey. We were so very impressed and indeed inspired. And it very effectively highlighted the importance and value of open-minded, flexible thinking to ignite creativity and achieve innovation.
Let’s set the scene. It was an International debating competition final with students from seven countries, all debating using the British Parliamentary debating style.
For those of you who are not familiar with this type of debating, this is a quick summary of how it works and was applied in this competition.
- They work and compete together in pairs and each debate has four competing pairs, each taking on one of four debating positions: Opening Government, Opposing Government, Closing Government and Closing Opponent.
- 15 minutes before a debate starts they are told what topic and position to argue (for or against – government or opponent) and if they go first or last (opening or closing) and what topic to debate.
- They then have 15 minutes to agree in their pair how to approach the task. They need to work out a strategy, find arguments for their position and agree how to divide up the proposition or opposition between themselves.
- Each person then gets exactly 5 minutes to put their case across and to respond to questions and rebut what others have said.
- They are not allowed to talk to anyone else or do any research. They only have their own minds to help them.
It was incredible to watch them all as they absorbed themselves into the task, so focused and so open to considering a topic from either angle.
You see, what they did is something we can all probably benefit from practicing more, and which we will absolutely have to be able to do to succeed in the future. We need to be able to challenge our own thinking, step into someone else’s shoes, and find new perspectives on any situation.
Want to be successful in the future? Want to future-proof your leadership?
Then train and stretch your mind to think new thoughts, to consider new arguments and ideas. It’s so easy to get stuck in thought patterns, to have firm views about something. And sometimes we don’t even realise that we take the easy option and take perspectives we’ve had before, rather than challenging ourselves to do something different.
Go a step further and come up with counter arguments to your own fixed ideas, unconscious biases and “truths”, and see what you discover, what new insights you are rewarded with.
Push yourself to become a truly flexible, open-minded thinker. Never ever take your first thought to be the ‘correct’ answer.
By challenging our own thinking, we open our minds to new ideas, we listen with greater curiosity to the thoughts of others and we are able to expand our own previous intellectual borders and discover new frontiers.
There’s something very compelling and beautiful and inspiring about such a flexible mind.
It shows that we can solve any problem, overcome any conflicts and ultimately create a better world, at work and outside of it. Our minds know no limits, if we allow them to be challenged and expanded.
And just remember or imagine what it feels like to work with someone who’s able to do that. And someone who is different to us, who challenges our own thinking and inspires new perspectives and ideas. Pretty amazing, right?
Are you ready to fully use your beautiful, flexible mind?