A friendship can be all kinds of things. People form friendships to avoid loneliness, to have fun, or out of convenience (like people who live next door to each other). However, there is also a special kind of friendship, which we can all develop: one that deliberately and consciously fosters brilliance. You are both setting the deliberate intention to bring forth the very best — the most brilliant thoughts — in each other.
Sometimes it is really helpful to engage in this type of friendship with someone who is in the same field as you. For example, one of my very obviously brilliant friendships is with my friend John Gray (who some people know because he wrote Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus). We regularly spend time together, and we always end up thinking things we have never thought before, saying things we have never said before, and we even wrote a book together that had never been written before. Jonathan Robertson, who lives in Nevada City where I live, also writes books and likes to talk about a lot of the same things I do. We often go for walks, and we are very clear that the point is not simply to exercise or to talk about movies — the point of the walk is to stimulate each other, to inspire each other, to have new, brilliant ideas… live on the walk. We have discovered a little technique that really helps with this.
When we meet in the parking lot of the trail where we are going to walk, initially we just start walking. After a while, we begin the practice. It starts with one of us talking for five minutes about something he has been thinking about: it could be the outline of a book, a blog post, or anything that is percolating. He talks about something that is currently germinating, while the other simply listens, with no interruption. Then, after five minutes, we switch to dialogue mode, and the one who was listening can start to interact.
We have discovered three modes of interaction, and each has its purpose.
The first is encouragement. Wow, you’re so brilliant!… that’s fantastic… I can’t believe you thought that up… you make me faint with just how brilliant you are… you know, the whole world will be changed by your idea! This way of responding makes the other person feel good, but does not necessarily inspire him to think further beyond where he has gone with his idea. He tends to relax and congratulate himself. It is sometimes helpful to have this kind of encouragement.
The second kind of response is critical feedback. Have you thought this through?… I don’t think that’s going to work… I mean, you know, a car driven entirely by soap bubbles, that’s a lot of soap bubbles you have to create, and anyway what about the pollution? Have you even looked into the polluting effects of billions of people emitting soap bubbles all day? Besides which, what’s it going to do to visibility on the freeway, if there are all these soap bubbles floating everywhere? That would be critical feedback: to pick holes and to challenge the speaker. This, of course, can be demoralizing, but it does sharpen the mind towards having new, more brilliant thoughts, which had not previously been thought.
The last kind of feedback is curiosity. Tell me more about that… I didn’t quite understand this bit… so, when you said “brilliant,” did you mean “inspired,” did you mean “very intelligent,” or, by “brilliant,” did you mean “shining brightly;” what exactly was your meaning… what exactly do you mean by this word… when you said that you get together with your friend, could it be any friend… is there anything here to do with age or cultural background? Curious means: Tell me more; I’m interested but I don’t have enough information.
All of these three responses are, in one way or another, useful in bringing out the best ideas from your friend: encouragement, criticism, and curiosity. We have discovered that there is an ideal ratio in this practice: approximately 40% encouraging, 10% critical, and 50% curious. At the beginning, when you start to take brilliant walks with brilliant friends in brilliant places, it is a great idea to monitor and ask yourself: what is my default state? Almost everybody has one habitual way of listening and responding. Some people are always encouraging. Oh, this is great… this is wonderful… fantastic… thank you… Some other people are repetitively critical. They cannot help but pick an argument with almost everything, especially if they were raised in a very intellectual family or were highly educated at University. These people are typically trained in critical thinking. Some other people, on the other hand, are just naturally curious. It is a great idea, in the beginning, to pay attention to what is your default ratio, and see if you can consciously practice your way to the 40 : 10 : 50 ratio.
After having read this, I would love to encourage you to go take a brilliant walk with a brilliant friend, expressing brilliant ideas about a brilliant topic that can help all of humanity. If you do that, I would like you to invite you to come back right here and report on your brilliant walk in the comments box below.