Sapere aude: Dare to think on your own

22 07 2008

I remember as a kid my mother explaining to me that, in Japan, people referred to Korea as “cho-sen”, meaning “Land of morning calm”. Being a pain in the neck since my early years, I always wondered how one could possibly say “land of morning calm” using just two syllables – that’s when my mother gently suggested me to shut up 🙂 .

Latin shares some of that hidden magic with Japanese and can also express a lot in a few words. Ad augusta per angusta, Caveat emptor and Urbi et orbe all seem to have this elastic semantic property. My favourite among the short Latin quotes is sapere aude, which mysteriously means “Dare to think on your own”.

In the last couple of years, I have read my fair share of business books (or at least portions of them, as I’m admittedly a lousy reader):

  • Get things done
  • The long tail
  • The world is flat
  • Wikinomics

and I’m currently reading:

  • Web 2.0: a strategy guide
  • Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies
  • Here comes everybody
  • Thinkertoys

While many things can be learned from those books, they are written in a way that can lead us to refer to them as gospels, and not simple sources of opinions.

Likewise, many times we see the use of blank statements disguised as common wisdom justifying policies or courses of action. Here are some that examples:

  • You can’t teach an old dog new tricks
  • Jack of all trades, master of none
  • Perception is reality

The real world is so much more complex than that. And I don’t mean to say I’m immune to that: from time to time I catch myself unconsciously trapped in that herd mentality. That’s why I enjoy to hear people who disagree with me, as they may be my only chance to snap out of it

If we have to choose a blank statement to adopt, I like this one better: “when everybody thinks alike, nobody thinks much”. If everything looks rosy and everybody is agreeing with you, think twice. And above it all, sapere aude.

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