Bill Nye is a famous American science communicator, TV presenter, and mechanical engineer. He once said that

“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.”

Despite this fact, our society is more than eager to promote overconfidence. Society mocks those who make mistakes.

We often reward Politicians, university professors, CEO’s, and many others in a position of power, for their confidence. Even if their logic or viewpoints have no basis in any meaningful research or consensus. In the end, we all tend to overestimate the amount of knowledge we have. We cling to these beliefs even when presented with opinions different from our own.

This tenacity to stick to one’s guns may help in the short-term. It can hasten decision-making. Yet, it is a severe disadvantage of progress, learning, and personal development. It is where intellectual humility comes in.

What is Intellectual Humility?

General humility includes traits such as honesty, sincerity, and modesty. Intellectual humility revolves around one’s ability to recognize the limits of their knowledge. Those of us able and willing to accept new sources of evidence and are open to new ideas are faster learners. You are much better than others when it comes to public speaking.

Laszlo Bock, is the former Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google. He once said that without intellectual humility,

“you are unable to learn.”

He is not alone in his opinion. Tenelle Porter, is a postdoctoral researcher in psychology at the University of California. She said that

“When we’re more engaged and listening to the other side, the disagreements tend to be more constructive.”

In other words, the ability to have a discussion and expose yourself to opposing or different perspectives can be beneficial. Beneficial to our long-term intellectual progress.

The Obstacles of Intellectual Humility

What’s the biggest challenge facing intellectual humility? It is in the way people look at intelligence as a whole. Carol Dweck is a psychologist at Stanford University. She coined the term “fixed mindset”. She applied it to those who believe that people are born with a finite amount of intelligence.

As a result, those with a fixed mindset and a high IQ take an arrogant stance. They believe they already know everything.

Those with a fixed mindset and a low IQ take on a pessimistic and self-defeating attitude. They assume they will never be able to improve themselves beyond their current condition.

Then there is the case of the so-called, bias blind spot. This is where we focus on our own unique past experiences. We have the impression that we have a greater insight than other people.

Empathy plays an important role, but it is not the empathy we are all accustomed to. Having an emotional connection with someone is one thing. Having an intellectual one is something else, altogether.


In a broader sense, intellectual humility is a sort of cerebral empathy. We remove the emotion part of the equation. Intellectual humility is all about mastering the art of listening. and not talking over others. Learning about the different levels of hearing and how silence plays its part, will lead to the long-coveted intellectual humility.

Philip Uglow is the President of Renshi Consulting Group. Renshi lowers clients costs by pulling ideas from your people in the moment, when they are most busy with real work. This is when they learn. This is when they change.