Intellectual Humility: The Key to Developing an Open Mind

Intellectual humility is defined in this way: to recognize the partial nature of everyone’s knowledge and always evaluate the intelligence of others. In practice, it is the attitude that has an open mind and this is clearly an advantage in the learning process. Those who have intellectual humility are more willing to consider visions not aligned with their own. The indispensable pre-requisite consists in the belief that intelligence is not a fixed and immutable quantity but something on which one can work through one’s life.

It is said that Benjamin Franklin knew he was intelligent, more intelligent than most of the people around him, but he was also intelligent enough to understand that he could not be right about everything. Therefore, it is said that when a discussion was about to begin, he said: “Maybe I’m wrong, but …”. This simple sentence reassured people and positively predisposed them to listen to his message and be more open to disagreements, considering them as something not personal. However, the phrase had a double impact because it also helped Benjamin Franklin to prepare psychologically to listen to new ideas, sometimes completely different from his. This form of intellectual humility and open-mindedness, so rare in our day, is not only essential for maintaining more assertive and constructive social relationships, but also allows you to grow as a person.

In life, we need a good dose of intellectual humility. Open-mindedness is what saves us from social barbarism and allows us to progress on a personal level. An open mind is constantly changing and transforming. A closed mind is blocked and, therefore, is the opposite of the incessant flow of life.

We must be able to defend our ideas when we are sure of them, but we must also be smart enough to admit that we are wrong, listen to different ideas and, in the end, understand and accept other ways of seeing the world. Only when we open up to new ideas can we learn. If we believe we have the truth in hand, we can only be sure that we will not move a millimeter from our position. To believe that we are the holders of absolute truth implies condemning us to stagnation. After all, you learn more by listening rather than speaking.

Unfortunately, on many occasions, we become our biggest obstacle to developing an open mind. We are victims of our thought patterns and our value system, which prevent us from conceiving another truth or reality different from ours. By simple selective laziness, we are more critical of others’ ideas than of ours.

Furthermore, we tend to pay more attention to those ideas that strengthen our own while we superficially ignore the contrary ones that challenge our view of the world or of ourselves and require deep inner work.

Intellectual humility refers to the desire to change, together with the wisdom given by knowing when we must remain faithful to our position.

It is a state of openness to different ideas, showing us receptive to new evidence. It is also a commitment to the search for new ideas, even if these contradict ours, it means committing oneself to listen to others, preferring discovery to the status quo.

Psychologists indicate that intellectual humility includes respect for other points of view, not being overconfident intellectually, separating the ego from the intellect, predisposition to review one’s points of view and, someone adds curiosity, which is precisely the trait that allows us to remain open to different experiences and points of view. The will to try new things helps us to open up to other perspectives, sometimes radically different from ours, and accept them as equally valid.

To avoid the trap of intellectual self-centeredness, first of all, we must recognize that the ideas we take for granted could prove to be wrong or insufficient. For this, we must stop identifying with our thoughts and ideas, not take different ideas as an attack on our ego, but evaluate them rationally, without adopting a defensive attitude that raises walls instead of breaking them down. We need to learn to discuss ideas by silencing our ego. Basically, not taking note of our cognitive biases, admitting that our opinions and those of others are only opinions that may vary according to circumstances.

Last but not least, we need to nourish the desire to know, to ask and not to be satisfied with the answers we get. Develop the curiosity that allows us to go beyond what we have been taught or believe.

Only in this way will we be able to develop the intellectual humility necessary to recognize our mistakes and take the biggest step of all: to change our beliefs for others that are more inclusive and constructive.

This makes a lot of sense in a constantly changing world where the leader simply cannot give all the answers, or be the most informed. Being open to new ideas requires listening to others actively, gathering information extensively, and not allowing common wisdom or preconceptions to limit our thoughts.

At the opposite extreme, there is intellectual arrogance – the twin evil of excessive self-confidence. This arrogance always starts from self-centered distortion, the tendency to overestimate our virtues or our importance, ignoring the role of chance or the influence of others’ actions on our lives.


Aldo Delli Paoli
Aldo Delli Paoli
Aldo is a lawyer and teacher of law & Economic Sciences, "lent" to the finance world. He has worked, in fact, 35 years long for a multinational company of financial service in the auto sector, where he held various roles, until that of CEO. In the corporate field, he has acquired skills and held positions as Credit Manager, Human Resource Manager, Team leader for projects of Acquisition & Merger, branch opening, company restructuring, outplacement, legal compliance, analysis and innovation of organizational processes, business partnerships, relations with Trade Unions and Financial Control Institutions. After leaving the company, he continued as an external member of the Board of Directors e, at the same time, he has gone back practicing law and was a management consultant for various companies. He has been also a columnist for newspapers specializing in labor law, automotive services and work organization. His interests include human behavior in the organizational environment, to the neuroscience, the impact of new technologies, the fate of the planet and people facing poverty or war scenarios. He loves traveling, reading, is passionate about many sports, follows the NBA and practices tennis.

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  1. Aldo – Great reminder that the only way we can grow, the only way we can see the need to change, the only way to create an unbeatable team is to listen to all ideas. Thanks for coming to this forum with gems of wisdom that create a better workplace and a better world. Well done, my friend.