The Power of Idea Connections

The more senior you rise in any field the more important it is for you to be open to changing your mind. Steve Levitt and Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics ( fame say that the single greatest mistake leaders make is ignoring evidence. Maria Popova, the brilliant thinker and connector at Brain Pickings ( says you should “allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind.”  And I have said more times than I can remember that truth isn’t good or bad, it just is.  Furthermore, truth doesn’t change based on the rank of the recipient.

So what does this have to do with ideas and connections? You can only learn more about any field and how it relates to other fields by connecting with people and ideas outside your own cocoon.  Gone are the days of super specialization in a given field.  If you cannot explain how you relate to the world around you, then you will probably be replaced by someone who can. Whether it is senior managers learning social psychology, biologists learning physics, or military planners learning sociology, nobody in any field operates in a vacuum.

So how do we expand those idea connections? First, you have to prioritize inquiry and learning new things as part of your job, no matter what level you work at and in what field. Read. Make reading part of your business day. Have the courage and discipline to read on the job what will make you better in your job.  If you are a senior leader and your day is too filled with day-to-day tasks and management of operations to read or inquire, then you are not properly delegating.

Next, what kinds of things should we read? This is where you get to make your own idea art. Pick up a book you have heard people talking about, or listen to a podcast you’ve been recommended, or open a magazine you’ve noticed on the reception table and dig in.  If you allow yourself to do so, your mind will naturally take you to the next and the next and the next readings. Here are just a few that I can recommend that should pique your curiosity and help you make connections that you can at some point use in your work:


Blink – Malcolm Gladwell

Freakonomics – Levitt/Dubner

A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson

Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card


The Atlantic



The Economist


The Theory of Everything

99% Invisible

In Our Time

The Partially Examined Life

By |2017-11-23T18:26:07+00:00April 28th, 2015|Blog|0 Comments

About the Author:

Tom Ruby
Tom Ruby is a retired Air Force Colonel who served 26 years on active duty in positions from Squadron Intelligence Officer, to Chief of Doctrine for the AF ISR Enterprise, to Chief of Special Programs for the Air Force Materiel Command. He was Associate Dean of the Air Command and Staff College where he developed exchange programs with the NATO School, the French École Militaire, the German General Staff College and Poland’s National Defense University. He served on General Petraeus’ Joint Strategic Assessment Team as well as in three combat deployments. He holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Kentucky, and actively mentors graduate students through the American Political Science Association. He is widely published and speaks globally on topics from critical thinking, to leadership, to strategy, to morality in warfare. He is currently CEO of Bluegrass Critical Thinking Solutions, a business and defense consulting firm.

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