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Growth Mindset

Before You Bet Big, Be Curious and Ask Questions

How curiosity can help you make smarter bets and avoid losing big.

Key points

  • When we make decisions based on assumptions and partial information, we are making a bet.
  • When we are certain of our conclusions, we fail to think about the consequences if we are wrong.
  • Pause for a moment and reframe your choice as a bet.

Without even realizing it, we are constantly making decisions and taking actions based on our assumptions about the people and situations in our lives. We’re sure we know the real reason our colleague has been dropping the ball lately (he’s lazy and assumes I’ll pick up the slack). We enact a strategic plan we think will win (we know what customers will want). We ignore signs that someone close to us is withdrawing (it’s just a phase and they want to be left alone).

When we make decisions based on assumptions and partial information, we are, in essence, making a bet. Whether we’re hiring a new employee or launching a new product, we are betting that our read of the situation (he’s a great fit for my team or this product is better than anything else on the market), is the right one. There’s nothing inherently wrong with making an educated guess—it’s often the only option when there are unknowns and lots of possible outcomes.

But when we are so certain of our conclusions, we fail to think about the consequences if we’re wrong. We fail to consider what else might be true, or what information we’re missing. We don’t seek out alternate interpretations or different perspectives. As they say, when you assume, you make an… well, you know the rest.

One of my favorite episodes from Ted Lasso illustrates the perils of staying stuck in our certainty and forgetting to get curious.

Source: Image from Apple TV+ Fair Use
Ted and Rupert
Source: Image from Apple TV+ Fair Use

In one scene, Ted challenges Rupert, the cruel ex-husband of Ted’s boss and a minority owner of the Richmond team, to a game of darts at the local pub. The stakes are high. If Rupert wins, he gets to pick the starting lineup of Richmond’s last two games, a decision with huge repercussions for the coaches. If Ted wins, Rupert has to stay away from the owner’s box, and therefore from his ex-wife, for the rest of the season. Rupert agrees to the match, clearly assuming that this ridiculous, impossibly friendly American who barely knows the rules of football poses no threat to him.

Murmurs spread through the crowded pub as the darts match begins. It’s close, but after five rounds Rupert has taken the lead and is gloating loudly. Ted needs two triple twenties and a bullseye to win—a nearly impossible combination. Rupert snickers and sips his champagne, but Ted seems unphased.

As he prepares for his final turn, Ted tells Rupert about a Walt Whitman quote he once saw painted on a wall back in Kansas City: Be curious, not judgmental. “I like that,” Ted says as he throws his first dart, hitting the triple twenty perfectly.

He continues, “I get back in my car and I’m driving to work and all of a sudden it hits me: all them fellas that used to belittle me, not a single one of them was curious. You know, they thought they had everything all figured out, so they judged everything, and they judged everyone. And I realized that their underestimating me [and] who I was had nothing to do with it.”

Ted aims again. “Because if they were curious, they would’ve asked questions. Questions like, ‘Have you played a lot of darts, Ted?’”

The dart lands right next to the first.

The pub is silent.

Ted smiles, “To which I would have answered, ‘Yes sir. Every Sunday afternoon at a sports bar with my father from age 10 until I was 16 when he passed away.’”

The dart strikes the double bullseye. A perfect shot to win the bet.

Now don’t get me wrong, I loved watching Rupert fall flat as much as the next Ted Lasso fan, but as a question nerd, I couldn’t help thinking what lessons could be learned from this face-off. Could knowing Ted’s darts prowess have saved Rupert from defeat? Maybe not, but perhaps if he had been open to the possibility that there was more to Ted than he assumed, Rupert would have thought a little harder about the wager he was making. And he wouldn’t have looked quite so dumb when he lost after all that boasting.

Try this: The next time you make a decision, pause for a moment and reframe the choice as a bet. What assumptions are you making? What information might you be missing? Who could you ask to find out that information? This allows you to make sure you aren’t letting certainty cloud your judgment, and instead allow your curiosity to do your due diligence before you act.

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