Learning from Neil deGrasse Tyson's Masterclass

What we can learn from Neil deGrasse Tyson

Eugene and I took the time to go through Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Masterclass the other evening and it was worth every penny. Through a series of videos, Neil explained the engine that drives how he thinks, interprets information, and determines truth amidst varying perspectives, clutter, and bias. When we can’t rely on previous information to solve problems, we must rely on how we think. Mastering your ability to think gives you range – relying on what you already know creates rigidity. Below are some oh his thoughts from the video series.

“Wisdom is distilled knowledge once you’ve forgotten all the details.” 

The best thinkers of this world have gone into the weeds, dove into complexity, and returned with simplicity. They went both feet into a topic, researched it from several different angles, and spread it as thin as they possibly could. This enhanced understanding gave them the ability to see things more simply by looking at them through a different lens. The details are there to help create this understanding – not cloud it. Wise people don’t need to say much because they’ve acquired distilled knowledge through years and years of diving into the complexity. Their journey through the weeds helped them return to the surface with simplicity; not the other way around.

The best teachers are able to take a complex subject and communicate it as simply as possible. As Albert Einstein says it best, “If you don’t know it simply enough, you don’t know it well enough.” If you can’t teach what you know to the dumbest person in the room, you don’t understand it thoroughly. The goal is simplicity but simplicity cannot be achieved without going feet first into the never-ending web of complexity. The wisest people to ever walk this earth have traveled that road; and they’ll be the first ones to tell you there are no shortcuts. Simplicity creates understanding, understanding builds knowledge, knowledge gives you the ability to build wisdom. The best thinkers of our time had unparalleled wisdom – Neil is no different. 

“It’s not good enough to be right – you also need to be effective.”

In a world where we’re all seeking objective truth, knowing what is true is only part of the equation. If you can’t effectively relay what you know, why it works, and how to make it work, what you know is useless. Knowledge is power until it isn’t. If you’re not actively applying what you know, testing your theories, and finding ways to get results, you can’t be effective. Everyone wants to be right in an argument – not everyone has the results to back it up.

This brings up another point Neil discussed: If you have results to back it up, the quickest way to lose your effectiveness is to tell someone else they’re wrong. Disagreements typically happen when two people are so emotionally invested in a certain perspective that they will go to great lengths to protect it – and they’re not interested in changing their mind. The best way to win these arguments is to avoid them, but the second best way to win them is to get on their side. Instead of telling them they’re wrong, figure out why they think the way they do. If you show genuine interest in their way of thinking, you’ve given yourself the ability to open them up to a new perspective. People want to be heard. If you make them feel heard, you’ve given yourself a chance to win them over.

Now you also have to explain your point of view carefully. If you force feed it to them, you’re going to wind back up at square one. Spark some interest by saying, “Have you ever thought of it this way?” or “Have you considered thinking about this?” You don’t need to say your stuff works – you just need to suggest that what you do might work. If you can inspire people to research what they do from a different point of view, you’ve created an incredible environment for collaboration. You can’t build a system of beliefs without knowing what’s on the other side. This is why Neil believes search engines are the epitome of bias: You’re one search away from confirming what you already “know.”

The most important thing you can be in this world is curious. Curious people aren’t concerned with agendas – they’re concerned about finding what is true. Effective leaders inspire curiosity; ineffective ones demand conformity.