Discernment Will Be the Key Competency of This Decade

5 Principled Concepts to Help You Discern Accurately

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What do you see first? The duck or the rabbit? Sorry, can’t unsee. (Anonymous Illustrator, 1892.)
5 Principled Concepts to Help You Discern Accurately To Be A More Successful Entrepreneur, Leader and Individual in Life and Business

“How shall a man judge what to do in such times?’

‘As he ever has judged,’ said Aragorn.

‘Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear…

It is a man’s part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien

Note: This article is full of new terms I created to help establish a greater vocabulary around what I call “discernment leadership” and “yet leaders” so that discernment can be applied to leadership, business and creativity.


I predict:

  • Discernment will become the number one leadership competency of the decade — the age of misinformation.
  • Leaders, entrepreneurs and individuals who learn to discern will have the unique and rare advantage to help more people, add more value and create better experiences for those they care for, love and serve.
  • Those who cannot discern will be fooled by misdirection, misdirection-data and lose their productive creativity to increasing opportunity cost (and won’t know until it’s too late).

In 2010, creativity became the number one competency for leaders.

“ARMONK, NY, — 18 May 2010: According to a major new IBM (NYSE: IBM) survey of more than 1,500 Chief Executive Officers from 60 countries and 33 industries worldwide, chief executives believe that — more than rigor, management discipline, integrity or even vision — successfully navigating an increasing complex world will require creativity.”

Today, in stark contrast to creativity, data access is the key.

“In our latest Global C-suite Study, we asked more than 13,000 C-suite executives what it takes to lead in a world brimming with bytes…The CEOs who help run these organizations aren’t daunted by data; on the contrary, they’re using it to make smarter business decisions, build stronger ecosystems, and experiment with new business models.”

Good News: Creativity and data are both drivers of success.

And yet.

And yet…

The world has entered an age of misinformation at such a global, instant scale that it is hard to discern between what is truth and what isn’t.

Creative problem solving with bad data doesn’t solve problems — it creates more.

One could argue that historically we’ve never had more access to more accurate information.

This is also true.

Like the image of the duck-rabbit above, two truths can exist at the same time.

Issues are multidimensional.

Two realities can exist at the same time. We don’t have to dismiss one to justify the other. Times of complexity inherently represent myriad realities on the same timeline.

Reality is asynchronous perspectives.


Most people forget to look at more reality than just one — their own.

Self-interested people only get so far when it comes to creating something bigger than themselves — family, community, work and other contributions.

Take the image the duck-rabbit, for example. One can argue that the illustrator drew a duck and then stop the argument there. Would that be true? Yes. But is there a rabbit? Yes. The discerning truth is that the drawing is both!

The discerning truth sees asynchronous perspectives.

Further, what happens when the data isn’t there? Not just data vs bad data, but no data at all?

  • What about a disruption, a professional anomaly or global pandemic?
  • What happens when “breaking news” is breaking all the rules of journalism (and breaking your sanity)?
  • What happens when your spouse or children want to know what to look forward to in the future when life is so uncertain?
  • Where’s the “good” data in realtime?

It’s not yet to be found.

“Yet” is where leadership lives.

The ability and skill to prepare and create what is yet to come, is discernment.

(“Yet as leadership” is a whole other topic that I need to give attention to in another article, book, podcast, training, etc. Please remind me. 😉 — Yet Leadership, The Power of Yet, And Yet, etc.)

Thus, for leaders, entrepreneurs, creatives, businesspersons and individual decision-makers, the skill of discernment allows you to see more than one opportunity, more than one perspective and avoid the law of increasing opportunity costs.

The skill of discernment allows you to see more than one opportunity, more than one perspective and avoid the law of increasing opportunity costs.

If you’re a CEO, founder, leader, creative, church member, designer, developer, politician, marketer, freelancer, professional, employee, family person, friend, teacher or writer and on and on and on…you can use the power of discernment to better serve others.

Whether you’re into technology, culture, invention, innovation, manufacturing, the startup world or development and on and on and on…you can use the power of discernment to better your self and others.

2. The Law of Increasing Opportunity Cost, Discernment and Kodak
The Law of Increasing Opportunity Cost from Study.com

Kodak saw one side of the truth of their industry and ignored the other(s). As a result, this lack of discernment created an environment where Kodak experienced increasing opportunity costs.

Did you know that Kodak, the 100+ year old film company, invented the digital camera in 1975? Now, picture that.

In fact, there were people within Kodak that saw digital as an opportunity. However, it’s reported that Kodak said, “when we talked about the possibilities of digital photography, people laughed.” It’s “stupid” to do things that people laugh at, right?

Sadly, after 131 years of business and lots of competition from the film company Fuji and the mounting swell of digital cameras, Kodak filed bankruptcy in 2012.

Kodak doubled down on one side of the truth and fell susceptible to the law of increasing opportunity costs because they couldn’t properly discern what was happening in their industry.

What’s interesting is that Kodak was first built on innovation and disrupting the status quo to get pictures into peoples’ hands, but then they stopped innovating when it worked.

This is classic entrepreneur conundrum: do we stop where we are and reap our rewards or do we keep innovating and risk resources?

I call it the “Stupid Loop” — where what once was called stupid, becomes smart, becomes standard, becomes stagnant — so invention and innovation must “return to stupid” to stay relevant.

In 1888, Kodak actually invented the first portable camera and wanted to “bring photography into the hands of the greatest number of people at the lowest possible price.”

This idea became a great success…until it wasn’t.

TechCrunch describes Kodak’s rapid decline this way, “Kodak…over a century old, had too much pride to change. When all is said and done, pride and nostalgia brought Kodak to its knees.”

Quite the ‘Kodak moment.’ (Couldn’t help myself.)

Did you catch that? “Pride and nostalgia.” Not the good kind of pride. Not the good kind of nostalgia. The kind of pride and nostalgia that breeds fear and blindness in decision-makers. Lack of discernment.

But, can you change once you’ve learned? Of course.

Today, “Kodak has emerged from bankruptcy a much smaller but profitable company. It has been mining its treasure trove of about 7,000 patents and developing technologies in digital imaging and touch screens. It still produces some of its classic film products but for smaller niche markets.” Kodak now sees both the “duck and the rabbit” — a fuller picture of the present-future and is acting accordingly.

Discernment isn’t just seeing the other side of the same coin — it’s seeking all the coins that matter in the transaction to create a transformation.

Sometimes discernment comes late as a reality check — wisdom, not perception.

It’s not a lesson learned until it’s a behavior changed.

You see, Kodak looked inside and saw film and ignored the outside where digital was on the horizon. By ignoring one truth, they lost their unique value on the inside. This may sound contrarian to following your gut or following your heart or doing what’s best for you. It’s not. In fact, quite the opposite.

In your reality…

The best way to protect the inside is to have self-awareness and other-awareness so you can discern — the essence of emotional intelligence.

It’s not hard to look at the landscape of your industry and focus on your internal truth (much merit to that), but it’s also important to look at the external truth so you can help more people.

3. The Discerning Truth

“A sign of wisdom is not believing everything you think. A sign of emotional intelligence is not internalizing everything you feel. Thoughts and emotions are possibilities to entertain, not certainties to take for granted. Question them before you accept them.” — Adam GrantOrganizational Psychologist, Wharton

Discerners have an advantage over flat-truthers because they are not fooled when one, self-interested side pushes what I call a flat-truth to eclipse the whole truth.

Flat-truths eclipse whole-truths: keep looking by turning it around.

Discerners: those who understand the truth that merges at the center of many perspectives.

Flat-truthers: those who only see their self-interest perspective.

(Yes, I made-up the name “flat-truthers” and have made-up a whole bunch of random terms in this article — as I love to do— to help you discern better. Enjoy. :-))

People who discern can creatively solve for problems with the data they see and data they can’t see (yet)because they continue to look when others stop.

Richie Norton’s Discernment Diagram: Discernment is an ability to recognize asynchronous truths.

Discernment is an ability to recognize asynchronous truths.

Getting out of your comfort zone to see new perspectives and discern is only a part of the goal to understand and execute on truth…

Discernment is about widening your comfort zone so you’re actually inside the once-outside so your goals fit comfortably inside your influence.

Once you widen your comfort zone, hitting your goals will be like hitting 3s for Steph Curry —where standing outside the line is as comfortable as being inside the line.

4. We live in an Information Age as much as a Misinformation Age.

“Neural signals are related less to a stimulus per se than to its congruence with internal goals and predictions, calculated on the basis of previous input to the system.” — Karsten Rauss at the University of Tubingen in Germany and collaborators:

The Age of Misinformation: We live in an age of both mass information and mass misinformation. We live in an age of massive data and massive mis-data. We live in an age where regardless of the information, we see the data presented through the filter of our own “congruence with internal goals and prediction.”

In other words, we see things the way we want to see them or the way we’ve been conditioned to see them.

Creativity can solve for problems of both information and misinformation, but the future is owned by people with discernment. Discerners can see beyond the data and conditioning to come to truths that merge subjectively and objectively.

The future is owned by people with discernment.

Charles Dickens may have described the multidimensional, asynchronous nature of truths and the essence of discernment best in A Tale of Two Cities when he said,“It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.”

“We had everything before us, we had nothing before us.” — Charles Dickens

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…” — Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

While discernment may seem like a gift of a some clairvoyant, the ability to discern is a learnable skill.

  • In fact, to create the highest and best use of your time as a leader, entrepreneur or in your every day, be an active discerner.
  • Discerners add a valuable perspective-balance of distinction and confidence to the distractions and confusions of misdirection-perspectives.
  • Discernment represents truth — cutting through misdirection — where a flat truth only represents single-interest bias.
  • Discernment will be the key competency of this decade because without it, leaders will continue to fall victim to whatever bias is attached to a dataset, statistic or fact-based research.

Discernment is the key competency of this decade.

5. Be a Discerner — How to Be A Discerning Person

“Every time you have a breakthrough idea, a really innovative idea, by definition it’s going to look like a stupid idea. If it looked like a good idea, it wouldn’t be innovative, it would be something that everyone else already knew and would be obvious.” — Ben Horowitz, cofounder of the VC firm Andreessen Horowitz behind companies like Facebook, Twitter and Skype

This is the art of what I call cognitive discernment.

Maya Angelou said, “Courage — you develop courage by doing small things like just as if you wouldn’t want to pick up a 100-pound weight without preparing yourself.” Likewise, discernment takes practice and preparation.

Google: Discernment

The brain is a prediction machine.

“Brains, it has recently been argued, are essentially prediction machines. They are bundles of cells that support perception and action by constantly attempting to match incoming sensory inputs with top-down expectations or predictions. This is achieved using a hierarchical generative model that aims to minimize prediction error within a bidirectional cascade of cortical processing…[your brain is a] “hierarchical prediction machine.” — Andy Clark, School of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh, EH8 9AD Scotland, United Kingdom

In other words, your brain is wired to predict what is coming ahead and to make corrections when it’s in error.

An example of how your brain makes predictions might be expecting a slope on the horizon while you’re driving. As you reach the slope, your brain may correct how dramatic the slope was based on additional inputs. Much this predictive processing may happen seemingly unconsciously.

As Andy Clark says in The Atlantic,

“All this makes the line between perception and cognition fuzzy, perhaps even vanishing,” is the conclusion Clark the philosopher draws.”

…and that’s the point.

When we hear or read or see something, our brain will predict what it coming next.

For example, can you read this?:

“Internet Trivia” Circulating Since 2003 and Studied by Scientists

So, what’s happening here?

  1. “Effectively, our brains construct an incredibly complex jigsaw puzzle using any pieces it can get access to,” explained researcher Fraser Smith. “These are provided by the context in which we see them, our memories and our other senses.” — Fraser Smith
  2. “The phenomenon has been given the slightly tongue-in-cheek name “Typoglycaemia,” and it works because our brains don’t just rely on what they see — they also rely on what we expect to see.” — Michelle Starr, Science Alert

Your perception of the slope on the horizon changes as you approach.

Something similar happens when we are working, leading, watching the news and trying to see the metaphorical slope on the horizon.

Our brain sees what’s coming, makes a prediction and we believe this prediction is true…until it’s not.

The challenge is that we are stubborn people by nature — prideful and nostalgic like Kodak.

  • Instead of correcting the nature of the slope in our minds when it comes to decision making — especially upon seeing or hearing a truth that shatters our own paradigm — we tend to ignore it instead of correct it.
  • We keep moving towards the slope — like lemmings to the sea — even when the slope is a fierce dive to the bottom — increasing opportunity costs.

Error-bias, as I call it — an unintentional bias for error caused by a lack of discernment — is easy to see in others when you see something they don’t. Like politics, we tend to see our side easily, but not theirs — even if our side is in error.

It is much harder to see lack of discernment in ourselves than others — making it that much more important for leaders to recognize discernment as a core competency.

This is why cognitive discernment is so crucial for leaders, entrepreneurs and creative problem solvers.

Cognitive discernment is essential because when we are intentional about avoiding flat-truths, guess what, we find more truth on the other side.

Here’s the key:

  • When we find more truth, we can discern better and make better decisions.
  • AND, since the nature of our brain is to predict, our brain begins to predict and perceive better when we train it to look for greater truths.
  • You can teach your brain to see a broader truth than the one it currently sees!

I believe you can learn how to discern better with practice.

When you become a discerning person, you’ll start seeing the game being played around you.

Here’s the trick:

Get better, not bitter.

  • The next time you are presented with information, “good” or “bad”…
  • The next time you have failure of data envelopment…
  • The next time you rely on creativity to solve a problem…

Remember that…

Getting better, not bitter requires becoming a discerner not a dis-learner.

Read that one again. Don’t be a dis-learner.

Practice continuous learning and improvement with discernment.

Your life and business will receive and achieve more progress and productivity when you learn how to perceive and avoid being deceived with cognitive discernment.

Cognitive discernment: the skill of intentionally understanding the greater truth to make predictive decisions.

The ability and skill to prepare and create what is yet to come, is discernment.

…and the best is YET to come.

A voice of warning: Learning the ability to discern is different than communicating discernment. People don’t like “know it alls.” In fact, history has shown that people may hate you for understanding the truth and seeing it before others. Being ahead of your time can be a dangerous game. And such is life. Discern anyway. There is a remedy though for communicating discernment in the face of conflict — a long held truth that Stephen R. Covey taught: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

ACTIVITY: Key Takeaways to Greater Discernment In Life and Business

Try this:

Step 1: To avoid deception you have to overcome your own cognitive bias.

Step 2: To be perceptive you have search for more than the obvious truth.

Discernment is the ability to recognize truth — especially when it’s hard — and even if it’s against your “better judgement.”

Let’s take news media for example. Dare we go there as your home activity?

  • When the media chooses to escape unbiased journalism, the public may be confused between reality and opinion.
  • Bias media knows this and intentionally pushes one side of truth to try and make the public to believe their side-truth is the full truth.
  • Don’t be fooled — this type of flat-truth is only an eclipse — keep looking.

The news media uses misdirection.

When youlook to the news media and believe what it says, while an actual different reality happens right before your eyes, you shoulduse discernment!


Like any good magician, misdirection doesn’t necessarily lie, it leads your eye in an intended direction to make believe.

So moving forward,

  • 1: Be conscious of what discernment is and how it applies.
  • 2: Apply discernment in life, business and creative problem solving.
  • 3: Practice discerning with a conscious openness.

Next time the news seems right, ask yourself what would happen if you turned it around. Do the same for when it seems wrong. Many people just take the news as it is — flat-truth on the flatscreen and wrongly believe it’s a full truth. Don’t let that person be you. Instead of giving you a checklist of what to do next, use your discernment by asking better questions. Better questions beget better answers.

Better questions beget better answers.

Leveraging these principles and new terms I shared in this article, you will be better able to see the whole truth, not the flat-truth-eclipse.

Are you willing to make perceptive, discerning decisions?

Your friends, family and co-workers will thank you for your discerning leadership in life, entrepreneurship and every day experiences.

The best is yet to come.

Comments Section

Would love your comments below if anyone still does that sort of thing. 😉

  • Have you used discernment?
  • How important is discernment to a startup?
  • Who is a leader that you think is good at discerning?
  • Have you seen discernment work for good in your life and business?
  • Would you be open to trying out discernment as a work practice?
  • What part of this article stuck out most to you?

Thanks in advance!

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