09 July 2020

What Open-mindedness is and How to Attain It

As a leader in a product organization you probably want to be thought of as being creative; open to new ideas, yet resistant to manipulation; tolerant of others; and empathetic. You might want to get more out of the teams you work with, create more successful products, and spend less time debating and arguing.

Like me, you might think that you are super open-minded. If you do, stop right here! Please take a quiz like this one. I was just like you - I thought I was the most open-minded person in the room - then I did some digging and learned what open-mindedness really was and how I was missing out on opportunities by being closed-minded.

I can help you understand what open-mindedness is and become more open-minded. Doing so will help you:

  • Be the creative, tolerant, empathetic person you want to be
  • Get more from the people you work with
  • Have more, better ideas, and develop deeper insights.

Read on to find out more.

What the dictionary says

As always, let’s start with the Merriam-Webster definition of open-minded:

“receptive to arguments or ideas”

Let’s break that down:

  • receptive - “able or inclined to receive; open and responsive to ideas, impressions, or suggestions”
  • arguments - “the act or process of arguing, reasoning, or discussing; a coherent series of reasons, statements, or facts intended to support or establish a point of view”
  • ideas - “a formulated thought or opinion”.

Traits of open-minded people

Now let’s put that together and see that an open-minded person has these traits:

  • Open to ideas - they like talking about ideas
  • Open to suggestions - they welcome suggestions about their work or ideas
  • Open to reason - they like engaging in reasoned discussions and facts
  • They hold a point of view but they are willing to change it based on ideas, suggestions, and reason.

Traits of closed-minded people

Another logical step is to infer that closed-minded people have these traits:

  • Not open to and do not like talking about ideas
  • Not open to suggestions about their own work or ideas
  • Not open to reason (e.g. they prefer mystical ideas vs reasoned ones)
  • They are not willing to change their point of view based on other peoples’ reasoned inputs.

Extreme open-mindedness and closed-mindedness

Now let’s look at the extreme ends of the scale and explore what extreme open-mindedness and closed-mindedness look like:

Extreme open-mindedness could look like:

  • Taking onboard ideas of others with no critical judgment at all
  • Basing all of one’s ideas on those of others
  • Rebuking morality and ethics as not being based on reason.

Extreme closed-mindedness could like:

  • Never changing one’s opinion or point of view
  • Never receiving or acting on suggestions from others
  • Never engaging in reasoned arguments or discussion.

Where are you on this spectrum? Where are your colleagues? What are the traits of people you enjoy spending time with?

What psychology says

Psychologists have been studying open-mindedness for close to 80 years. One of the most useful personality models - OCEAN - uses a linguistic clustering technique to analyze all of the words that exist in the English language to describe personality traits, then clusters them into five mega traits. The O in OCEAN stands for openness and means the same thing as open-mindedness.

Here are some of the traits of people with high levels of openness:

  • Creativity
  • Intelligence, knowledge, and curiosity
  • Ability to pay attention
  • Liberal thinking
  • Tolerance of other people and ideas
  • Empathy

Yes, that is right. People who tend to listen to other peoples’ ideas and who are willing to change their own based on reasoned arguments tend to be smarter, more creative, more able to pay attention and be more empathetic.

At CloudMade we use OCEAN to assess candidates during our interview process. We do this because we believe - based on our experience and the available evidence - that open-minded people are better suited to the kind of work we engage in.

Traits of open-minded people

Putting all of this together, here are some of the traits of open-minded people. Can you see how these traits could be beneficial in our workplace?

  • A tendency to listen to others before making a decision
  • A desire to learn from others
  • A curiosity that drives them to learn
  • A willingness to change their ideas in the face of evidence
  • A tendency to look at evidence when forming an opinion
  • A belief that their colleague’s views are as important - if not more - than their own
  • An assumption that their view and beliefs may not be right
  • A tendency to delight in changing their views in the face of evidence

Further learning

If you want to learn more about open-mindedness and develop your openness you can check out these resources:

Blog posts:

Fun quiz


Making Sense of People


The goal of coaching is to develop self-awareness and open-mindedness in coachees. If you are working with a coach, talk to them about developing your open mindedness.

Another powerful tool to develop open-mindedness is meditation. There are many great apps available. Two of my favorites are Calm and Waking Up.

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