The Trouble With Like-Mindedness

By Carrie Fox

I used to think that one of the key pillars to success was to surround myself with like-minded people. Surely, those who thought similarly to me and who had taken similar education or career paths would be my best sources of insight and information, right?  Well, I thought I was right, until I knew it was wrong.

It started with a class I took, hosted by CommonHealth ACTION in which I was forced to examine a list of 10 people whom I trust the most. No relatives; just peers, mentors and friends could be on the list.  And what I found shocked me.  Nearly all 10 people on my identified list looked like me. They held similar levels of education. They had similar political beliefs. They were from similar socioeconomic backgrounds.  The lack of diversity floored me.  And once I saw it, I vowed to do something about it.

That experiment with CommonHealth ACTION has all resurfaced for me as I’ve started reading Bill Bishop and Robert Kushing’s book, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing is Apart. Using groundbreaking research, the book explores how Americans have sorted themselves into increasingly homogeneous neighborhoods, choosing to live near those who share similar beliefs, backgrounds, and socioeconomic status, somewhat unintentionally. It’s to be expected—people naturally congregate with those like them. But, as they state in the book, “we are living with the consequences of this segregation by way of life: pockets of like-minded citizens that have become so ideologically inbred that we don’t know ‘those people’ on the other side of the political divide who often live just a few miles away.”

But, if we know better, we must do better, especially when it comes to the dangers of group think. When we’re surrounded by people who tell us what we want, and believe what we do, it’s very easy to accept that something is true because enough of the people around us say it’s true. So, instead of wrestling with hard questions, or challenging norms, we simply settle for answers without ever questioning them.

What would happen if, instead of shying away from the difficult, we vowed to get comfortable with the uncomfortable? Could big change happen with little adjustments to our habits?

 In the spirit of breaking the habit of like-mindedness, here are a couple questions that helped me challenge my way of thinking and doing business, and may help you, too:

  1. Examine your peer group – Take on the trust experiment yourself. Are your personal and professional circles similar to you in their thinking and lifestyles? Do you challenge one another?  And how would someone in your peer group or work group react if you challenged their thinking?  If those challenging conversations aren’t happening often, perhaps it is time to widen your circle.
  2. Vary your listening habits– Instead of listening to the same morning news program every day, consider trying something completely different. See what you can learn when you simply listen to a different perspective.
  3. Go one level deeper– Take one topic that you hear about today on the news or in your peer group and go deeper. Force yourself to look at both sides of the issue and try to understand what might be going on with those who think differently than you. You don’t have to agree with what you learn. The point is simply to be open to learning about how people are thinking about an issue from a different perspective.
  4. Examine how you use social media– Examine the list of people and organizations that you’re following. Do they all generally think like you? Consider expanding who you’re following to get a wider range of coverage, and intentionally follow individuals and groups who think differently to be aware of the conversation from another point of view.

Breaking the group think mentality won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen without some uncomfortable experiences.  But, as Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.”  And with the problems in our world today, there’s no better time than right now to start thinking different.