Thinking Again: Big 80s Energy

It’s a miracle that the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) was ever made. Its record high price tag at the time was a whopping $70 million (more than double that in today’s dollars). It also featured a record-breaking number of credits at the end of the film – lasting more than ten minutes – a testament to the enormous number of people involved in the making of the film. But, the real miracle was that somehow so many competing animation entities agreed to come together to make the film happen – most notably Disney (who was making the film) and Warner Brothers. 

Those two studios agreed to equal screen time for their marquee characters. It’s no coincidence that Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny share a scene. So too do Daffy Duck and Donald Duck in what is surely the best dueling piano scene in film history. And along the way, we see everyone from Droopy Dog (Tex Avery / MGM) to Betty Boop (Fleischer Studios). How did all of these rivals come together to make something so fantastic, something never done before?

The eighties had significant moments of groundbreaking cooperative energy like that. Take We Are the World, the star-studded benefit recording to aid famine relief in Africa. Recorded through the night after the Grammy Awards in 1985, the gathering featured a veritable who’s who of eighties music royalty. A sign hung as you entered the recording studio famously stated “Check your egos at the door.” This history by Rolling Stone is a remarkable retelling. The decisions on which stars were assigned solos was a bit contentious – and, of course, there were some politics behind those decisions. But, after working all night long (shout out to Lionel!) they got it done.

I should note this idea owed a debt to the previous year’s UK-centric Band Aid release of Do They Know It’s Christmas which further spawned the biggest ever benefit concert the next year, Live Aid. What an idea – looking to other countries for great ideas and replicating their success! I wonder if we could apply that thinking to, um, everything? But, I digress.

The entertainment industry wasn’t the only sector coming together for our common cause. An agreement among nations to build an International Space Station was announced in 1984, a remarkable project and notable human achievement that continues to break new ground and aid in our shared discovery. The nations leading this effort included the U.S. and Russia as well as the European Space Agency, among others like Canada and Japan. Honestly, how often do the U.S. and Russia team up on something unthinkably massive and complex like this (and yes, I acknowledge this collaboration may end soon)? 

As I consider the challenges facing humankind right now, we’re going to need to channel some of this creative, collaborative, big 80s energy. A dilemma like climate change is, in my view, the most daunting of challenges facing us. It won’t be solved without intense, focused collaboration and creative innovation.

But, is that possible in an era of divisiveness? In this country alone, we’re increasingly segregating ourselves into groups. Some would argue we’re living in different realities, or at least different media bubbles. How can people of diverse, even competing beliefs come to enough agreement on what is true and what isn’t to make progress on a monumental challenge like the climate crisis?

Perhaps we start by reading Adam Grant’s new book, Think Again. I hesitate to try to summarize the many ideas presented here but I found it to be a wonderfully introspective read on how our opinions tend to become hardened into place. And how over time confirmation bias (seeking out information that seemingly confirms what we already believe) can take root. Instead, he argues that we should “think like a scientist” and allow new truths to confront us. Don’t let this thought of thinking like a scientist put you off. Grant encourages us to be delighted when our past assumptions are shown to be wrong. Hey, we’ve learned something new!

He also speaks of defining our identity in terms of values and not opinions as it’s much easier to change your past beliefs if you haven’t attached them to your identity. I’m barely scratching the surface here but eventually the book examines our need for constant collective rethinking. How do we get large swaths of people to think again about the things that simply are no longer true – or perhaps never were true? And how do we always make time to think again?

My hope is that by all of us getting on the same page a bit more, we have a shared starting point for progress. We can find our common interest in doing good. On a topic like climate change, there is largely one scientifically valid page to be on. We must all move to a place of current evidence, despite any prior false convictions. Let’s face it, we lost decades arguing over whether climate change was caused by humans or frankly, if it was real at all.

Another reason we need to pay increasing attention to how willing we are to rethink, is that our collective knowledge is increasing – at an increasing rate! 

In 2011, you consumed about five times as much information per day as you would have just a quarter century earlier. As of 1950, it took about fifty years for knowledge in medicine to double. By 1980, medical knowledge was doubling every seven years, and by 2010 it was doubling in half that time.

That’s a tidy stat for me – it means that ten years ago I was already taking in five times as much information per day as I was during my first year of high school. And that rate has certainly continued to accelerate. 

We all experience information fatigue. Consider how many online services have popped up to curate news for us? When did that start becoming a thing? (Never mind that some curation services are merely a means to influence or manipulate our thinking by whatever marketer or group wants to encourage us to think a certain way.) Grant’s point here is that this accelerating pace of new information means that we need to question our beliefs more than ever. Let’s just make certain that when seeking new information we’re not always choosing sources that serve to support our own confirmation bias.

We’ve got work to do, folks. Big challenges ahead – I don’t need to name the topics. Starting from a place of shared truth is going to be essential. Once we get there, let’s tease up (or feather out) our hair, find an unlikely collaborative partner and harness that crazy, creative big 80s energy to do things never done before. We are the ones who make a brighter day so let’s start… rethinking.

1 thought on “Thinking Again: Big 80s Energy

  1. Dan Laskin

    Valuable as always, Scott. I admire your spirit here, because, as you note, the challenges are truly daunting. I’m intrigued by the idea of defining your identity in terms of values. I suspect that I might share basic values with people I find it hard to fathom because of their political beliefs. Still, it’s hard nowadays to imagine finding common ground. But, as you say, we’ve got to!


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