The Power of Dissonance

People tend to associate with people most like them. We hang out with people with similar hobbies, career paths, social circles and viewpoints. There’s a certain level of comfort in surrounding yourself with people like yourself.

Comfort, however, is not often equal to progress. When it comes to expanding your mind to new possibilities and advancing your knowledge and skills, a little dissonance goes a long way.

One popular phrase you hear thrown around is the “wisdom of crowds” - the many are smarter than the few. However, it is important to note that the wisdom of crowds does not equal crowd psychology (the power of people acting collectively). Instead, the wisdom of crowds is only true when the crowd consists of a variety of people with different viewpoints, opinions and backgrounds.

Why is it that we need this diversity to excel and grow? It’s because as we become certain that something is true, our mind locks onto that idea. We have a tendency to filter out any information that may conflict with our firmly held opinions, and only focus on those that support them. This behavior, of course, strengthens our existing opinions and sheds no light on alternate solutions and beliefs that may be superior to the ones we have chosen to latch onto.

As Jonah Lehrer says in How We Decide, “The only way to counteract the bias for certainty is to encourage some inner dissonance. We must force ourselves to think about the information we don’t want to think about, to pay attention to the data that disturbs our entrenched beliefs.”

The way to overcome our certainties, and to challenge ourselves to new heights of accomplishments and knowledge is to consider other perspectives than our own, to surround ourselves with people who will challenge our beliefs. And then we must listen. We must not filter out their commentary, we need to consider it and view our problems with a fresh perspective. That’s how we develop our skills and that’s how we create new, innovative solutions.