John 8:32 reads, “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”
Matt Berrett, former assistant director of the CIA, shared this scripture — which is carved into the wall of the CIA headquarters — as he met with students and faculty at BYU-Idaho on Tuesday.
“We need to know the truth,” Berrett said. “Some of those truths will be life and death. Some of those truths will be existential.”
Berrett opened his remarks with a short anecdote on his attempt to describe the entirety of human history in the fewest words.
“One thing led to another,” Berrett said.
Unfolding a series of historical events, Berrett began with World War I and moved forward until World War II, further emphasizing how one thing did indeed lead to another.
Berrett prompted those in attendance to discuss “a thing that might lead to significant other things” in current events. Topics the audience touched on included the conflict between Israel and Hamas, the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, the war on terror and China’s influence in various parts of the world, along with their relationship with the Western world.
Berrett showed a picture of a Swiss watch and used it to explain the difference between complicated global relations and complex ones.
Berrett explained the watch, being complicated, is made up of many moving pieces that all play different parts and have predictable results. If a piece stops working, one can reasonably predict what will happen.
Using the predictable complications of the watch as a contrast, Berrett then explained the complexity of the world we live in.
“Complexity is about interdependency between actors (humans), factors (everything else),” Berrett said. “Interdependence is robust. You can’t see it.”
Berrett explained that the difference between complicated and complex is that in the complex world we live in, there are many unpredictable actors and factors in play and there is a higher risk of surprise. This uncertainty increases the need for people who understand the bigger picture.
“That econ degree, there’s a billion of them coming out of colleges and universities every year; and there’s a few hundred million of them coming out with high GPAs,” Berrett said. “That’s all fantastic. That’s necessary. But what folks to this day, particularly in an increasingly complex world, are yearning for is minds that are bigger.”
One area Berrett mentioned that leads to a broader mind is the media we consume. Berrett specifically recommended reading The Economist because of the wide range of topics and its frequent two-sided approach to the subject matter.
This point is something that inspired Avery Anderson, a student studying marriage and family studies who attended the event.
“When it comes to my news and information input, I think I would like to immerse myself into different perspectives — harsher perspectives — honestly,” Anderson said.
Referring to Berrett’s discussion, Anderson explained that if she could understand different perspectives, it would help her stay out of the echo chambers that form on extreme ends of the spectrum and would help her become a better citizen.
Anderson also mentioned the Center for Anticipatory Intelligence which Berrett co-founded at Utah State University.
According to CAI’s website, they offer a Master of Anticipatory Intelligence which welcomes students from a large range of academic backgrounds to “navigate complex emergent security challenges across a wide range of fields and industries.”
“Having engineering students, art, history, English, like all of those majors, being able to give input into world affairs and world events, that is what creates better perspective and what makes the world a better place,” Anderson said.
As the end of the evening neared, another student asked how Berrett continues learning and what he did when he was a university student to think bigger.
“Ride your curiosity …” Berrett said. “An hour a week, two hours a week, something you know, every other weekend spend three hours trying to systematically get into the zone where you are reading more broadly than the stuff you have to read.”