I'm Ben Gruber

2013 / 6 August

The Agreeable Contrarian

Open Contrarian


For as long as I can remember I have identified myself as a contrarian. For whatever reason, I am skeptical about things. My natural tendency is to distrust when I first hear something. Evidentially, happiness research data shows that mistrust is the number one factor in whether a person is happy or not (trust = happy and vice-versa). I don’t know… I am little skeptical of that ; ).

Anyway, I have always had a sense of pride about being a contrarian, probably as means to justify my own way of being, but also because I believed that it took more thought. But, as I move further into life, I have heard many people – a lot of which I do not respect because of their lack of deep thought – also declare that they are contrarians. Saying it loud and proud!

Being a contrarian, I did not like that other people were claiming this status as well. So in true contrarian fashion, I found myself annoyed and full of mistrust about these people and even about my own claim.

This pain in my side was combined with the fact that I had been late to the game in a couple of tech innovations that I, in retrospect, wrote off too early. So I began to contemplate what I really was and should be. I couldn’t be lumped in with the “fakes” that are self proclaiming the Contrarian name and being in the field that I am in, I couldn’t continue to miss the first bus to the next generation of concepts.

What I arrived at was a new sub-classification and conceptual framework for thinking, which I now use to approach inputs as they come into my brain. I am not a contrarian – no no no. I am an Open Contrarian.

A contrarian’s goal is to be adversarial – the constant devil’s advocate. But automatically going against something takes as little thought as automatically believing in something. An Open Contrarian on the other hand, has a goal of proving the initial input correct through contrarian thought. An Open Contrarian treats each input somewhat like a math proof. We go through each possible reason that the input could be disproven, not because we want it to be wrong, but because we want it to be right. And as each possible point of error is proven correct, we move closer and closer to the real goal – unaltered belief in the initial input. Because, one can really only truly know something is correct, when you have proven that is definitely not wrong.

I’ll give a really straightforward example. The other day, I was reading about the properties of triangles. I know I know, nerdy. It was for a website I was working on. One of the principles I read about – The Triangle Inequality Theorem – stated that the longest side of the triangle had to be shorter than the sum of the other two. When I first read this, I thought – “No friggin way!” It just did not seem right to me.

So I went about trying draw a triangle where the shorter sides could add to less than the longest and still make a triangle. First I drew a picture where the long side had a length of 8 and the two sides of 3 and 4. I tried to tilt the angles so that the side met. But they clearly could not. Next, I tried to make one where it was 8, 4, and 4. Again, this simply didn’t work. No matter how I angled it – I could not make a triangle. After using pencils to try to make it happen and spending another 15 minutes attempting weirder and weirder hypothesizes, I still could not find a way to disprove the concept. So, at that point, I did a 180 and switched sides. I now 100% believe the theorem. As far as I am concerned, I would risk my life that it is true.

And that is how Open Contrarianism works. You go against an idea as hard as you can,  as fast as you can. And if it turns out that after all your prying and testing, that there is no way to break the concept, you switch sides and argue for the other side of the camp.  The faster you get through this process, the quicker you can either be firmly for it or against it.

I feel much better about my classification now.  I have distanced myself from the contrarians that I don’t respect and have given myself the avenue to jump on great innovations early. I am an Open Contrarian.

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