Business Bites: Why Intellectual Humility Matters

Intellectual Humility ─ Why being underestimated enables me to excel

Intellectual humility is rarely found and often misattributed in all walks of life: in the classroom, workplace, or in public. It is the recognition that you are not always right. In fact, you may even be wrong. Intellectual humility is a great trait to have, and it is regularly seen in the kind of employees that AMPlify describes as ‘athletes.’

Unfortunately, intellectual humility is often mistaken for overall humility, or worse: bashfulness. I want to explain why having intellectual humility doesn’t have to make you a pushover. It doesn’t mean that you lack confidence, or are short of self-esteem. Professionals with intellectual humility (and I include myself in this group) are unexpected characters in an unimaginative workplace. It is a trait that helps people to excel.

What is Intellectual Humility

Intellectual humility is a method of thinking or a mindset. People like me entertain the possibility that we could be wrong, and we make sure that we are always open to the idea of learning from the experiences of others. We want to absorb all of the knowledge available to us. This mindset is reliant on our innate curiosity about things that we do not know or understand.

The Brady Factor

Here is an example of intellectual humility: Tom Brady, quarterback for the New England Patriots. He wasn’t the number one draft pick when he was younger. He hasn’t ever been ‘the best of the best’ throughout his career ─ he isn’t the fastest, and he can’t throw the furthest. What he does have, though, is a chip on his shoulder. He has faced a lot of doubt during his career. He has been an underestimated force.

While other football stars at the top of their game flex their abilities and coast along, those with intellectual humility, like Tom Brady, grind. They have the open-mindedness, intellectual courage, and integrity to hear the criticism, take a look at the doubters, and say ‘I am going to fix this.’ That is the winning mentality that has led Brady to six Super Bowl victories in nine outings ─ the most of any player in NFL history. The man who has never been ‘the best’ has won a record four Super Bowl MVP awards and three NFL MVP awards during his career.

People wrote him off and overlooked him. That chip on his shoulder has made him work hard enough to surpass expectations over and over again.

Humbled Humility

I’m not saying that people with a bit of intellectual humility are advanced human beings. This is not about having a high IQ or a particular skill set. I am also not saying that they are lacking in confidence or self-esteem. They just do not give up when challenged, and they habitually consider their limits. The process of self-critiquing and addressing failures can be painful, but it is important nonetheless.

Ultimately, we observe everything, we fail fast, we recover with haste, and we learn from our mistakes in everything that we do. We know our limits, or at least work to establish what they are, and we are humble enough to hold our hands up and say, “look, I got that one wrong.”

What is intellectual humility? It is the ability to look past obstacles and find solutions to move forward in the face of adversity and doubt.


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