“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. And Dr. Teller’s slogan is a wonderful test case to explore this.
First, let’s look at perspective shifts. We humans are creatures defined by our beliefs. And our beliefs define our perspective on the world in which we are embedded. When 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 be limited in one’s possibilities. If say, one works on a scientific or social problem, but applies one’s smarts through only one mindset to solving the problem, one may never solve it. Very few problems and challenges are solved by taking only one perspective to them. A eureka moment only happens when one’s perspective shifts.
And in the spirit of that insight, we need to not take this 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 or Pin. (Or spam e-mails selling inspirational programs, which is where I ran across Dr. Teller’s quote.) We need to get past the hype. What does it mean to shift perspectives and what are we actually needing to shift?
To unlock solutions, we need to shift 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 corporate profits. Eric (Dr. Teller’s name isn’t “Astro,” it’s “Eric”) is an executive for Google who bills himself as an “entrepreneur” and “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 substantial change. Saying you are being audacious is not changing anything. Selecting the latest trendy set of buzzwords is not unlocking potential. They certainly do not solve concrete problems faced by real people. Marketing hype attracts venture capital from hedge funds, a portion of funds perhaps going to research and development rather than corporate executives and stockholders. It is not change. Rearranging the chairs in the board room, changing the name of the company, 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.
Changing your position can be a substantial change in mental attitude or knowledge. That only comes from opening your mind to people who are different from you. Remaining in the paradigm of corporatism is remaining in its echo chamber of profit fixation and marketing hype. The 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 lectures and listening to others. That will bring you a real perspective shift that will unlock the world for you.