I'm skeptical. It's the phrase that strikes fear into the hearts of innovators and creatives everywhere. A new idea is fragile and must be nurtured tenderly before it is ready for the slings and arrows of the skeptical world. But how do we protect our ideas from the skeptical skeptic?
Defaulting to skepticism can be healthy, especially in an environment where ideas thrive. In an idea economy, there are all that matter. And so, in this way, curiosity and skepticism toward ideas can be a healthy thing. But when taken to an extreme, or when it is a default position, then skepticism loses its purpose.
It seems that the default skeptical position is becoming more common. But this default position is thinly veiled. A little genuine curiosity reveals that the true skeptic is nowhere to be found. How come?
Skepticism is rare because it's the contrarian position. In an age of agreeability and us versus them, being a skeptic opens yourself to criticism. Human nature's tendencies toward tribalism are strong; if you question the identity of the tribe, the mob is waiting.
Skepticism is hard. Our current news cycles amplify hot takes and soundbites to pack the most generalizable notion into the least amount of space. Agreement with a generality is intellectually easy. A lazy person agrees without thinking. An equally lazy person disagrees without thinking. Being skeptical means you understand the argument or position and can articulate an alternative viewpoint.
Skepticism seems smart. Do they know something I don't? What does the skeptic see that I am missing? Skepticism has FOMO built-in. To default to skeptical seems easy and smart. But it's a position that needs to be defensible. Hence, explaining why the skepticism takes effort.
In science, this is more true than ever before. While peer review of scientific manuscripts has many problems, one self-destructive behavior is to request pages of additional experiments. "What about X? How about Y? I study Z; have you considered it?" Peer reviewers are cannibalizing each other's progress only to appear smart. Accepting a manuscript as presented might cause an editor or a colleague to assume you're intellectually lazy. "They haven't found the flaws (because there have to be flaws), so they're not bright."
Anyone can state they are skeptical of the results of a paper, but it's much harder to say why they are skeptical. For the skeptic, specificity is key to skepticism. For the critiqued, specificity is also key. Approaching skepticism with curiosity can reveal where the holes are and how they might be filled.
Skepticism of an idea serves to make that idea better. We should all hope to be in an environment that encourages skepticism — skepticism with specificity — which can be a place to grow new ideas. When a new idea is met with skepticism, welcome that skepticism with "how come"?