To Know an Idea without Accepting It

By | April 28, 2019

[April 28, 2019] An elemental part of intelligent leadership means being able to hold an idea in your mind and not accept or reject it. To examine an idea for its value and to entertain its significance is difficult. Nothing is more challenging than the ability to study, debate, and think through a concept without immediately accepting or rejecting it.

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle, ancient Greek philosopher

Ideas can change the world. Many have done so throughout the history of humankind. These ideas are so ingrained into our system of life that we barely notice. For example, the idea of farming for food, vaccination against disease, or the printed book has all made for a better life. Such ideas did not, however, spread because they were “obviously correct” but because they worked.

Ideas are often rejected out of hand because their obvious value is not easily recognized. The Brooklyn Bridge, which was a new type of suspension bridge, was called impossible to build. Even once constructed, there were prominent people in politics and business that said the bridge would collapse and kill thousands of people. Of course, that never happened.

In late 2006, I was part of a team of senior staff officers who acted as a Red Team to find deficiencies in the idea of targeting insurgent networks during the Iraq War. Our job was to think like the insurgents, incorporate their ideas, and see how we could defeat U.S. military forces. Their extremist ideas are repulsive, but we used their ideas (i.e., ideology and values) to good effect.

It is the intrinsic duty of leaders to hold forth ideas for their value. Like Islamic insurgent ideology, it is important for a leader to be able to use an idea (regardless of what we may think of as good or evil) to find its usefulness. Many find this a difficult task.

Open debate is one common technique that allows for the study of such ideas. Sadly, our formal educational institutions today are reluctant to follow this Western tradition. I find this a serious failure in academic leadership. However, I see many young people who can hold forth an idea, dissect it, and methodically and unemotionally find its worth.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

16 thoughts on “To Know an Idea without Accepting It

  1. Kenny Foster

    Five Critical Thinking Skills are analytical, communication, creativity, open-mindedness, and problem-solving. These are those things that are most needed in intelligent leadership and sought after in all job applicants today.

    1. Bryan Lee

      It’s about analyzing a problem, generating and implementing a solution, and assessing its success. This is what intelligent leadership is. To do what Gen. Satterfield notes – to hold onto an idea without accepting or rejecting it – is what good leadership is to an idea like a fish to water. Without this ability a person cannot lead.

  2. Greg Heyman

    Leaders want someone who can evaluate a situation using logical thought and come up with the best solution. Someone with good thinking skills can be trusted to make decisions on his or her own and does not need constant handholding.

  3. Lynn Pitts

    Yes, I think this is called ‘critical thinking’ but you have taken the concept a little further. Thank you, Gen. Satterfield for another worthwhile article. That’s why I’m enjoying my reading time this morning and having a great cup of coffee. 🙂

  4. Shawn C. Stolarz

    “Critical Thinking” may sound like an obnoxious buzzword from liberal arts schools, but it’s actually a useful skill. Critical thinking just means absorbing important information and using that to form a decision or opinion of your own.

    1. Willie Shrumburger

      This doesn’t always come naturally to us, but luckily, it’s something we can train yourself to do better. If you are a leader that is worth their salt, you had best get this skill under your belt quickly.

    2. Eddie Ray Anderson, Jr.

      Events like a presidential debate or science debate are a great place to train yourself to pay attention to particular details. The more you pay attention to these kinds of details the more automatic your critical thinking will become.

  5. Yusaf from Texas

    As the old saying goes, “If it were easy – everyone would do it.”

    1. JT Patterson

      What it takes to truly understand what is required mentality, physically and intellectually to go from idea to reality is the epitome of great leadership.

  6. AutisticTechie

    The interesting idea today and one that I never really gave much thought to. To have an idea and to think it thru without really accepting or rejecting it or even having a bias one way or the other certainly is a strength of an intelligent person.

    1. Tony B. Custer

      Good comment. I was thinking that this is what young people should be taught. Today, the grasp at just about anything that some prominent, popular politician says and believe it and stand on it like they are the moral superiors of us all. How unfortunate that we have raised such weak-minded young folks.

      1. Roger Yellowmule

        What you’re talking about is the ability to analyze information objectively and make a reasoned judgment.

    1. Georgie M.

      I was thinking the same. Good to see you back in the comment section, Watson. We’ve missed your wit and humor.

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