Openness is a simple concept reliant on a system of equal rights that respects the dignity of each person and their right to live as they choose – as long as they do not violate the rights of others. When people are respected, free to choose their own path, and rewarded for the value of their work, they can improve their own circumstances as they contribute to the well-being of others. An open society encourages honest exchanges of knowledge, opinions and ideas while protecting individuals from the threats or force of those who disagree.
Unfortunately, today’s trend is against openness. Differences have become dividing lines, with those who disagree demonized or canceled. More broadly, nationalism and tribalism pit one group against another. Closed-minded people retreat into insular and protectionist groups, reinforcing their own biases and preventing the exploration of different perspectives through civil discourse.
The ancient philosopher Confucius taught that it is “a pleasure to learn,” and that even in a group as small as three, there will always be one from whom we can learn. By embracing openness, we accelerate our rate of learning and improve relationships. Differences become opportunities for productive discussions even in the face of passionate disagreement.
Openness should extend to all interactions with others, including trade. Voluntary exchange – based on mutual benefit – fosters division of labor by comparative advantage and entrepreneurship that lead to a greater diversity of art, music, food and other goods and services that enrich people’s lives. Protectionist barriers to exchange, whether within or among nations, create closed systems that stifle innovation and value creation. As Frederic Bastiat observed: “When goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will.”
At Koch, we recognize the vital role of openness in bringing about progress. Innovation flourishes when we encourage the free flow of ideas, well-designed experiments, challenge and building knowledge networks. Employees learn more and make better decisions when they seek out diverse points of view and are open to feedback about how they can improve. They help others do the same when they share their ideas and suggest different approaches. If we are open, we recognize that no matter how well we have been doing, we can always do better. Openness helps us overcome entropy in society, our organizations and our lives.