I ran across this quote years ago and yesterday’s discussion with my students in ethics class brought it to mind.
“Perspective shifts will unlock more than smartness will.”
– Dr. Astro Teller
There is wisdom in this quote, but like all wisdom, it has to go deeper than a slogan or it isn’t really wisdom at all. Dr. Teller’s slogan is a wonderful test case to explore this.
On Perspective Shifts
First, let’s look at the meaning of perspective shifts. We humans are creatures defined by our beliefs. And our beliefs define our perspective on the world in which we are embedded. Our beliefs structure our perspective. If we are stuck in our beliefs and do not allow new information and new ideas to alter our perspectives, we limit ourselves.
What Dr. Teller says is so true: shifting our perspective will reveal and open up more possibilities than being smart ever will. One can be very smart within only a narrow perspective and thus remain limited in one’s possibilities. If say, one works on a scientific or social problem, but applies one’s smarts through only one mindset, one may never solve it. Very few problems and challenges are solved by approaching them from only one perspective. A eureka moment only happens when one’s perspective shifts, opening oneself up to wisdom.
And in the spirit of multiple perspectives, we need to not take Dr. Teller’s slogan at face value but look deeper at it. Insightful as it is, it is merely a slogan — a pithy quote that on its own never does more than appear as a Tweet, Pin, or a catchphrase in spam e-mails selling inspirational programs, which is where first saw Dr. Teller’s quote.
We need to get past the surface hype. Sounds bites and bumper stickers aren’t wisdom. What does it mean to shift perspectives and what are we actually needing to shift?
On the Hype Machine
To unlock solutions, we need to shift our perspective away from the hype machine — away from smartness selling itself as wisdom — and get to true wisdom. Let’s be blunt: platitudes and marketing buzzwords are neither wisdom nor perspective shifts. Dr. Teller works for Google. They changed their name to “Alphabet,” but they are still Google, still the corporation that removed “don’t be evil” from their corporate manifesto because not being evil was limiting their corporate profits.
Eric (Dr. Teller’s name isn’t “Astro,” it’s “Eric”) is an executive for Google who bills himself as “Captain of Moonshots” for Google’s “factory for building magical, audacious ideas.” He also runs a hedge fund that invests in these “magical, audacious ideas.” Eric is not shifting away from the old perspective of corporate capitalism and frivolous marketing hype.
Minor changes in how one describes things are not the major perspective shifts that are needed for unlocking substantial change. Saying you are being audacious is not changing anything. Appearing at TED talks spouting the latest trendy set of buzzwords is not unlocking potential. They certainly do not solve the many concrete problems faced by real people in real life.
True, marketing hype attracts venture capital from hedge funds, a portion of funds perhaps going to research and development rather than corporate executives and stockholders. That is not sufficient change. Rearranging the chairs in the board room, changing the name of the company or division, or creating new audacious titles is not shifting perspectives.
Real change comes from real perspective shifts and real perspective shifts come from a beginner’s mind. That means not changing your name or marketing slogan but changing your position to perceive new things.
What does it mean to change your position? Travel is one way. Other ways are undergoing substantial changes in mental attitudes or acquiring new knowledge. Regardless, perspective shifts only come from opening your mind to people who are different from you — listening to other people’s experiences and perspectives.
Remaining in the paradigm of corporatism is remaining in its echo chamber of profit fixation and marketing hype. Your mind remains blind unless you depart from your well-worn paths and listen to the wisdom of others.
For people who sincerely want to bring concrete solutions to people, that means departing the cocktail circuit of tech conventions and TED ego fests. It instead means listening to others, traveling to their worlds and viewing from their perspectives. It means taking on the approach of listening rather than proclaiming. That approach will bring you a real perspective shift that will unlock the world for you.