Development, Leadership, Learning, Organisational Change, Reflecting, Social Media

The Importance of Thinking Beyond Your Bubble



A few days after Paris Terrorist attacks, I’m in the pub with some friends and colleagues and I’m in conversation with someone about the attacks. Her response was very much aligned to mine, a sense of: more love/ less aggression = good response to the situation. Control, vengeance, fear = long-term scary response to the situation. We were blown away by the bravery the courage and the solidarity we saw.

But it’s where the conversation went next that stuck with me and I’m still mulling on. It was when she said everyone on Facebook agreed. Her timeline on Facebook, her Twitter feed, her news alerts all pointed to the incredible, liberal, make-love-not-war sense that she already had. And I realised, mostly mine did too.

But of course that’s bollocks. Not everyone agreed. Not everyone responded as we would like. Other Facebook feeds were doubtless awash with a counter-narrative that would have made me terrified/ want to weep.

I’d already been writing about “living in a bubble” – where digital algorithms “helpfully” put stuff in front of me that I already want to see (I search for a sofa on a whim, suddenly my digital life is awash with adverts whispering “sofa, madam?”) Whilst this “service” can be amazing (I am a sucker for an Amazon recommendation) it takes away my need to think, to seek, to question. The part about whether I actually NEED a sofa – that really important part, the questioning of need part, doesn’t come into play.

And so very quickly it becomes easy to find myself living in a world I have constructed – a world made as I want to see it. A world made up of the things I like, or believe I need; a world made up of the people I want to hear from, the views I mostly concur with; a world without the inconvenient irritations of “stuff I disagree with or don’t need”.

And that’s nice.

It’s nice until I come up close and personal with a view that is counter to mine, a narrative that is disagreeable or offensive or scary. Then I find myself suddenly without words. My critical faculties are dulled. My responses are kind of weak and inadequate. Or blunt and aggressive. My instinct is to be snarky and smart-arsed, or not engage – to walk away, to turn over the TV channel, to move to my happy place….I go basic. Fight. Flight.

but how helpful is that? At no point am I developing my capacity to articulate a counter-view…ah… that’s not great.

A world constructed of our own view doesn’t encourage thinking about, accounting for or arguing against other opinions…. So the things that would indicate we have a high EQ -curiosity, empathy, tolerance – get squashed; or are at least under developed. When we bump into an alternative view, we don’t have the skills or the responses to deal with these effectively. We reject outright:  That doesn’t fit with my world… RUN AWAY!!

At a basic level, if we want to work well together, our ability to think beyond our little bubbles and be curious about others is vital. Do we have learning strategies in our organisations that support critical thinking? Do our leadership courses reflect the need to deal with differing information, be curious about differing viewpoints, and understand some of the positive implications of “difference”?

In order to survive and thrive, I’d argue critical thinking has more value than many of the leadership/management models we throw out in courses.

In fact I’d argue it is the basis for change and without it, without acting on it, everything remains the same.

Think about the decision makers in organisations. If the above is true for your Board or your leaders, if all they get is the stuff that makes them happy, if they are unwilling to look at the inconvenient truths; if, in the face of diverse opinion, they respond by ignoring or becoming aggressive, where does that leave us? A bunch of folk talking AT each other. Whoever is noisiest or nastiest wins? Lots of little bubbles of thought, unconnected and merrily broadcasting their world view without challenge? Where’s the change or progression in that?

This is why I choose to work dialogically. To work the difference. To acknowledge the value of diversity of thought. To say the unpalatable constructively. To open up debate & new possibilities. To get to a place of understanding that is richer than a mono-view. It’s not lovely pleasant stuff at times – it can be damned uncomfortable to listen to something you don’t want to hear and so it requires some care and some kindness. It can be damned uncomfortable to disagree with someone – especially when all those lovely Contrary View muscles have been atrophied through lack-of-use.

There are some big scary narratives out there at the moment, socially, politically & organisationally. We need voices and actions that move us away from fear-mongering short-sighted narrow focussed guff. In times of intolerance and stuck systems, more than ever we need tolerance, open thinking and leaders who have the bravery and the articulation to tackle the tough stuff.

So I’d say: Step away from the bubble…See what is beyond…

and in the spirit of thinking critically, what would you say?


This post is, in part, inspired by thinking and writing in David D’souza‘s Fragmented Workforce post in Training Journal last month, where I wrote alongside Sukh Pabial, Perry Timms & David Goddin
& interesting insight into what can happen on your Facebook feed: I liked everything I saw on Facebook for two days and here’s what it did to me
and thanks to Jon Bartlett for sharing this on Twitter in response to the blog: Hossein Derakhshan was imprisoned by the regime for his blogging. On his release, he found the internet stripped of its power to change the world and instead serving up a stream of pointless social trivia 

19 thoughts on “The Importance of Thinking Beyond Your Bubble”

  1. As always your writing captures my thinking and I find myself nodding… There are some vital clues in what you say… The biggest for me Is in hearing that someone has something different to say rather than something that is right or wrong or that makes me right or wrong…. It’s different … A better place to start the conversation from…
    And you choose to work dialogically.. I am wondering if indeed you choose to live dialogically too?

    1. I try…. I’m trying to inquire well, advocate well, be curious and suspend judgement and all that good stuff……
      and even when I wrote this, I was called out on the advocating nature of the position… where’s the inquiry? The critical evaluation stuff?

  2. Ah, the deadly trap of all rulers and leaders, of being told only what they want to hear. The trap of boards, committees, and groups, of “group think” and the illusion of unanimity. you are so right, that it is vital, if only for the maintenance of our critical thinking (a subject currently held in low esteem it seems in our educational institutions), to hear contrary ideas and opinions, and actually listen to them with the question, “How is it that one can think that, feel that? How do they arrive there?”

    1. My worry is critical thinking isn’t just held in low esteem.. it’s feared, rejected, marginalised.
      There’s a whole bunch of strutting emperors out there, naked as newborns, spouting unchallenged bilge about the finery of their fashion… and those who are looking on saying: “I can see his arse..can you see his arse? that Emperor is wearing no clothes.. there’s a bylaw about that” are punished or silenced

  3. Good points, well made as usual Julie! If I may be permitted to share a story. I share your sensibilities… well we are connected on social media, so you might expect that. That said, I have FB friends, friends of friends, and some relatives who have distinctly less liberal views than my own. One in particular often posts things I find quite challenging, bordering on offensive to my sensibilities. I have at several times thought about “unfriending” him. But it is exactly your point that reminds me not to do so. I don’t want to live completely in a bubble. There are a lot of my connections through social media that are just like me, and I also need to be reminded there are many different views out there. And I’m okay with that.

    1. It’s a tough choice sometimes Jeremy….tougher to choose to let it be in your life,than to reject it and send it packing… and some folk are crying out to be “muted” – but then where does that get us?
      I guess the critical evaluation part is knowing this is in the mix – this person offers a different view point- and making a choice about whether that is likely to lead to a change / is it of value… make a conscious, balanced decision – or even a massively emotional one – but it’s based on your lovely untidy, messy choice, not a maths-based algorithmic disconnected forced-choice.

  4. I just wanted to add that the skill of reflection is a very important skill to nurture. We all know we make better choices and articulate our ideas more carefully when we’ve had time to think. Reflective practice or critical thinking needs to be introduced young and then continued throughout our lives, we need to keep feeding it

  5. I really enjoyed this Julie what I like about this and most of your posts, it enlivens me and gives me an insight into what goes on for YOU, rather than just blether about the “ten best whatevers” which most often leaves me with a sense of altschmertz. You invite people to respond in the spirit of critical thinking, but if I may have some license, I would like to respond in a spirit of loving collaboration and “building on”. As you implore yourself, it’s so important for me, too, to expose myself to things which challenge me to think about myself and the perspectives I hold about the world, otherwise I am not entirely sure I would be of much good service to others.

    Without a trace of irony, I agree with what you have written here. And there is something I would like to add in. You say “In order to survive and thrive, I’d argue critical thinking has more value than many of the leadership/management models we throw out in courses.” I’d like to add empathy into that. I think that without empathy, critical thinking might just remain that: critical. I hope, really I do HOPE, that we as a civilisation have reached “peak selfishness” and that we might be on the cusp of actually learning that there are more in the world than just “me” or “me and my ethnic group” or “me and my buddies who think the same as me” or “me and the people who echo me back so I can feel good about what I have constructed”, you get the picture.

    Critical thinking is one thing, an incredibly valuable thing (which goes on far too little). And I would like humanity to move beyond taking an opposing view and being able to criticise, or merely to be girding ourselves to be amongst opposing views. Opposing views are not necessarily things we need to be able to counter or argue against, as Rhona says in her comment above, even if in our heart of hearts we KNOW them to be “wrong” (though I know from my own work experience that sometimes they ARE just wrong). One of the things that echoes from my counselling training is that everyone makes sense to themselves, as bobcabkings was alluding to in his response above. Hard as I try sometimes, I just can’t see the sense of a view someone else is holding. I think it takes conscious effort to extend our efforts at empathy and to try to understand why what someone else is espousing could make complete sense. In fact, even the people who have done the most abhorrent things make sense to themselves; they are still humans trying to meet their human needs. If we can begin to find ways to let others know that we acknowledge that they make sense, we can, I believe, help to reduce the propensity for all of us to go to fight-flight-freeze. From there, we might begin to have constructive conversations that challenge everyone to open up their thinking and come up with new solutions to things which have got us stuck. Again, from my own work experience, until I was able to find out how some folks made sense to themselves, I wasn’t able to meet them and companion them on the changes they knew they had to make in their lives.

    As you say, we are living in times of intolerance and stuckness. I think the next thing for us to do is not to tolerate; I think it is to role reverse, to accept and to value. If I don’t, I may miss out on the opportunity for some crappy idea of mine to be forged into something bigger and better that what I could have done on my own. I may miss the opportunity for my viewpoint (which may have become ossified by living too long in an echo chamber) to soften, to shift or to expand. I may miss something which, under the rules of my own personal game, seems counter-intuitive and too easily dispensed with. I may continue to be afflicted by the asymmetric insight which we all go about our lives with, unexamined. As much as it pains me sometimes, I can recognise when some public figure that would normally make my blood boil says something “good” and insightful that I hadn’t heard before (even a broken clock is right twice a day, I will concede).

    Getting out of the bubble seems an emphatically urgent thing to do, given the times in which we live. Churchill is quoted as saying, “We shape our buildings; our buildings shape us,” which, to me, points to the reflexive nature of the bubbles we inhabit. Yes, it’s important that we surround ourselves with people who mirror us back, helping us to see our identities, giving us a sense of belonging, places where we can have fun. When does the line get crossed when that social atom loses diversity and it tends to enforcement of a more rigid set of values, beliefs and knowledge? As you say, the one who cries, “But the Emperor is wearing no clothes!” is not just silenced…they aren’t even there.

    I heard someone, somewhere last year encouraging people to make a third of the people they follow on Twitter, people whose views challenge their own view of the world, just to get out of the bubble you describe and it seemed like an exciting idea. Not sure if I’m bold enough for that just yet, but if I can share a wee promise I made to myself at the beginning of the year, I have told myself to find places where I can expose myself to people (not in that way!) whom I would not normally come into contact with in the course of my day-to-day. I have found that since coming back to London and, in some senses, reinventing myself, I have felt rejuvenated, in the original sense of the word and this has helped me, in some strange kind of way, find more parts of myself that I was perhaps a stranger to or frightened of. It might be enlivening to perhaps be amongst some of those folks who do hold what I might call a fearful, expedient or short-term view of things, to find out how they make sense to themselves and see what may come of that. We all, in the end, have to coexist on this planet and I for one would hate if that meant we had to eventually come to some to sort of uniform groupthinkspeak, having argued some of the planet’s inhabitants into submission, in order for coexistence to occur.
    With love, John

  6. Great stuff as always, thanks Julie. Margaret Heffernan has a great TED talk on this stuff – Dare to Disagree – I find myself recommending it regularly during coaching and when I work with participants in groups.

  7. Great read, thanks Julie. It’s interesting how differently an alternative opinion or a challenge to thinking can appear on social media as opposed to face to face. In the pub, I’ve had a robust argument – sometimes changed my mind, sometimes agreed to disagree – but then had a drink and we’re still great friends. Yet in the social media world it feels/seems different; as if the person on our timeline should think the same as us, about everything. We gain huge amounts from social media, I love Twitter, but we do also lose the subtlety, the longevity, the nuance, the expressions, the time to explore differences in thought.

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