Thoughts and ideas are based on what we expose our senses to, original thought is quite rare. If you are surrounded by people who have original thought, do not leave that group. The only salvation we have in this human experience is be truthful and authentic, however our society and communities are not built on those principles. I have been influenced by a number of original thinkers and I think it is an exercise that we have to go through to possibly have our own original thoughts and insights. The field that I operate in, which is venture investing, allows me this privilege. If you get a chance to work with exceptional Mission Driven Founders, you are lucky. I am lucky that way. Founders are my tribe.
Founders need to have contrarian views about the world and usually contrarian views are also pathways to original thinking. By definition you need to have a different view of the world if you want the future to look different from the past. Hopefully this new version of the future that you are building is better and good. It is not a given, as the famous cliches go All Roads to hell were paved with good intentions. This is also the main point that I usually recommend founders to work on original hard problems rather than copy what has already been built. There is nothing wrong in the 27th version of a search engine but it needs to be exponentially better and is not just incrementally better.
I think anyone can train themselves to have an open mind. You have an Open mind if you are able to received ideas that you think are wrong but you still investigate and ask yourself the question, are my assumptions and understanding true-enough to have a different view about the idea?
I am challenged every time I get an email or pitch deck from a founder. It is very easy to reject ideas without giving it much thought. I think a lot of people do that. Especially investors, they do pattern matching which serves us well in a number of things but pattern matching in venture investing is a really bad idea. In my experience every startup that I have been part of has had a different pattern and the founders could not be more different. So how does one farm black swans in a sea of wanna be founders. I think you cannot find these exceptional founders by signaling. The biggest signal most investors give is the amount of money they manage and this might attract those who think money solves all problems but I have come to realize that money only solves money problems. The company building process rather the Startup building process is riddled with different kinds of problems some of them can be solved with money but not all of them.
I have realized the startup path forces you to have an open mind because the challenges are beyond the scope of what you know and you need to become a continuous learning machine to be able to make meaningful progress in a startup. You cannot learn if you have a closed mind. By definition, learning is a process of opening yourself to new information and understanding. Founders who do this naturally do well in building their companies. I have subscribed to the view that you need to have strong beliefs but you need to hold onto them weakly i.e. if new information or data shows up that shows your beliefs are wrong you need to be the kind of person who changes your beliefs. If you cannot do that then the startup path becomes much more difficult than it already is made out to be.
How can you be more open minded? the first step is curiosity, are you naturally a curious person? do you get sucked into understanding how things work? Can anyone become curious? I think so, we are fungible creatures if enough incentive is provided we can do anything. I have learnt that curiosity is by far the most important ingredients, this can be learnt. The second ingredient is the relentless drive to get to the truth. Not many dig into this, I wish we did because it is true what they say, the truth will set you free. Especially startup founding is a truth game, if anyone in the startup game lies then they are lying to themselves. As Richard Feynman said, “You should not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool”. Curiosity and truth seeking are good ways to get to an open mind. The last but not the least is to put the ego aside. Ego is our self-worth or what others think as your worth. In order to be open minded you also need to be able to acknowledge you were wrong about something. Ego gets in the way of that. I have noticed it with some of my colleagues and founders when they start using words like “I am like that and I cannot change“, that is usually ego talking. If one is able to park ego aside they can change into pretty much anything they want. It is practice and is a skill.