The Power in Thinking for Yourself

One of my favorite reads of the year was the book Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue  by Ryan Holiday. What made this story so gripping to me was Holiday’s weaving of three storylines together to create a narrative about the use of power, secrecy and yes, conspiracy.In the very second paragraph, Holiday says:

“There is an unpleasantness in talking about conspiracies, I’ll grant that. Yet conspiracy is a neutral word. It depends on what one does with it. Our tendency to shy away from this truth creates a profound ignorance of how things really work, and what it means to be strategic, to be powerful, and to try to shape events rather than simply be shaped by them.”

If you have been reading this blog for long, you know one of my themes is power, without almost ever using that word. (Why? Because it’s a highly charged word.) Yet I am always examining who is really running my life, where is my choice, and how do I unleash who I really am in the world. So it’s no wonder I loved this book.
Last night, when I saw that Ryan Holiday had posted his interview with Peter Thiel from the day before, I did something I never do. I sat down and watched the whole hour. Thiel’s fame arises from his co-founding of PayPal and deep involvement in other Silicon Valley interests. He’s mostly famous in those circles as the guy who thinks for himself. He’s especially famous for asking people his bullshit detecting question: “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”
Quick hint: Don’t try to answer that question by seeing what your co-workers think or going to Facebook to see what your friends are posting. Definitely don’t turn on the news and see what your favorite flavor of media is sharing today. I’m not being flippant here. Understanding your own mind – really knowing what YOU think – is incredibly difficult. We have SOOOO many inputs and we are hardwired to fit in with our social groups.
Truly thinking for yourself will likely put in you in disagreement about something with almost everyone you care about.
In the interview, they talk about thinking for yourself about 40 minutes into the interview. Holiday asks the same question of Thiel that so many of my clients ask me: How do you really cultivate the ability to think for yourself?
I’m not going to even try to paraphrase their conversation through my filters or ways of thinking. Even if you watch it for yourself (and I recommend that you do), you won’t see or hear the same things I did. We all think differently and that’s the gift we bring to the world.
This is not a question for just today’s world. Socrates who lived 470 BC said  “To find yourself, think for yourself.”
Learning to think for ourselves really does require reflection and ironically, feedback. Our brains are complex, powerful and fundamentally lazy. Whether YOU like shortcuts or not, your brain is taking them all the time. Without awareness, your brain will run you instead of the other way around.
So how do we really think for ourselves? Where do we trust things at face value and when is it worth digging into? In what ways do we jump to conclusions without really considering all the evidence? How do we learn to understand our brains so that we can bring our best thinking into the world?