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    How To Be Proven Wrong

    Daily Stoic Emails

    Imagine writing a book that sells millions of copies over the course of nearly a decade, and then, out of nowhere, another author comes along and challenges it. What would you do? 

    In Malcolm Gladwell’s massive bestseller Outliers: The Story of Success, he posits that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice is required to master any skill. Implicit in Gladwell’s argument is that success is the manifestation of specialization. If you want to be among the best at something, you have to focus solely on that singular skill. 

    David Epstein first disputed the 10,000-hour rule in his book The Sports Gene. He was then invited to the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference to debate Gladwell on this topic of specialization. Neither they or their critics would have predicted the friendship that came out of the debate. But their discussions spawned the ideas that became Epstein’s second book, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World—which doesn’t just challenge the 10,000-hour rule, it may well debunk it. How did Gladwell take it? As Epstein explained in our interview with him for

    He could have viewed our ideas as in zero-sum competition. But he didn’t. He viewed it as an opportunity to engage in more discussion—often politely antagonistic but very productive discussion—and consequently we learned from one another. [This] set in motion what became not only a really productive intellectual relationship for me, but also a model of how two people publicly associated with certain ideas can engage without forcing zero-sum competition.

    Seneca deliberately read and immersed himself in the work of people he disagreed with. He frequently and unapologetically quotes Epicurus, the head of a rival philosophical school! Knowing this may be perceived as abandoning the writings of his avowed philosophical school, he often clarifies his intentions. “I am wont to cross over even into the enemy’s camp,” he explains, “not as a deserter, but as a scout.” Like Gladwell and Epstein, he didn’t view Epicurus’ ideas as in zero-sum competition with his own. They were a chance to learn. They were not an obstacle but an opportunity to broaden and bolster his intellectual arsenal. 

    “If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change,” Marcus said. “For I seek the truth, by which no one ever was truly harmed. Harmed is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance.”

    It’s so easy today to close ourselves off at the first sight of an opposing view. On all points along the political spectrum, people are close-minded and sensitive to their perspectives being challenged. Let David Epstein and Malcolm Gladwell be your models today. Break out of your filter bubble. Prioritize speaking with someone you are likely to disagree with. Practice quieting your ego and opening yourself up to learning something new. Practice seeing things from someone else’s point of view. Seeking the truth, keeping an open mind, having the humility to accept you might be wrong—this is how we grow.

    P.S. This was originally sent on February 18, 2020. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.