Why are we so slow to believe the “unbelievable”?

by Edward Henkler on September 2, 2014

I recently read Joel Rosenberg’s historical fiction, “The Auschwitz Escape”.  As stated in a recent post, I previously believed that I was reasonably knowledgeable about the Holocaust but this was an eye-opening tale.  I’d also say it was an entertaining tale but that doesn’t seem quite right given the subject matter.  Joel’s story is based on the fact that although a number of folks escaped Auschwitz, the rest of the world was slow to believe their stories.  The Nazi PR machine consistently used the concentration camp label, rather than the more accurate death camp label.  Although the escapees provided detailed information of the genocide, the general public was very slow to believe them.  Perhaps the truth was so horrifying that their minds couldn’t accept the information?  Regardless of the reason, the unwillingness to believe the death camp stories led to far higher loss of life than might have been necessary.

The "unbelievable"

This human tendency to reject the ‘unbelievable” can be problematic.  The “unbelievable” can represent danger or opportunity.  Recognizing its potential more quickly might save a life, literally.  In a business setting, it can make us more entrepreneurial and innovative.  Anticipating sea change in our industry can position us to be first to market with a new product or service.  Incorporating the “unbelievable” or “unimaginable” into our routine thinking can also be energizing.

How do you become more open to the “unbelievable”?  It starts by diligently scanning myriad sources of information, including print and electronic media.  You should include some nontraditional sources as the perspective will be different and you might pick up a disruptive idea.  You should also tap into the “human intel” that is an indirect benefit of networking.  Allot a little time routinely to exploring the “unbelievable”.  Ask yourself and your colleagues what would have to change to make the “unbelievable” believable.  While you don’t want to become distracted, periodically considering more outlandish possibilities is good for you.  It stretches your mind and perhaps you’ll uncover the next big thing!

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