Changing Your Mind, Advice from Jeff Bezos

This post is a response to a blog entry by Jason Fried of 37signals, where Amazon founder/CEO Jeff Bezos visited yesterday.

You can read Fried’s entry here.

Helpful Quotes

He said people who were right a lot of the time were people who often changed their minds. He doesn’t think consistency of thought is a particularly positive trait. It’s perfectly healthy — encouraged, even — to have an idea tomorrow that contradicted your idea today.

What trait signified someone who was wrong a lot of the time? Someone obsessed with details that only support one point of view.

Perhaps I simply need more context to be convinced, but I do not believe it’s good for leaders to change their minds very often. (Note, *often*.)

How can a team make meaningful progress if the premises can change on a whim?

I’ve seen this in organizations actually (the leader changing his mind every couple of minutes). It’s a large source of wasted productivity. If life and business is a battle (ala SunZu et Machiavelli), the war will not be won if the marching orders and focus of attack change daily. It really is that simple (imho).

While I absolutely, vehemently agree that ideas and directions should be mutable over time, this act of self-evaluation can not come at the cost of meaningful progress. The risk is too quickly abandoning ideas that may foster large, meaningful results if executed through completion. To explore the adjacent possible we have to fully commit ourselves to unlocking the first possibility.

To some degree, changing your mind a lot (in major ways, not on details) is a sign that you’re not adequately thinking through scenarios—you’re merely piloting by reaction.

I will go so far as to make this claim: All major innovations and accomplishments in human history were not completed by people who changed their minds every few minutes.

Despite the romanticism we conjure when we think of Newton or Darwin, their ideas did not come in flashes of radical re-evaluations, but rather slow, methodical evaluations of a core idea/belief that grew to become a break-through idea.

These individuals looked for real reasons to change their ideas or beliefs, but for the most part they were looking at evidence as a tool guiding them to their breakthroughs*.

Even art is not created quickly and purely through intuition—painters for example have quite a bit of time to make small adjustments as they work the canvas. The core ‘what’ doesn’t change but some of the approaches or techniques may as the artist more and more surfaces the image.

Plans, Ideas, and Strategies can and should change over time but not on whims and not without considerable thought.

*If this is interesting to you, I would recommend checking out The History of Innovation by Steven Johnson or (from a ‘creative, art’ perspective) Little Bets by Peter Sims.

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