There’s a quote from novelist Rita Mae Brown: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
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To Amazon billionaire and world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, this phrase is extremely true. He believes one single trait distinguishes highly intelligent people from all over people: the ability to reassess and change their minds.
“People who are right a lot listen a lot, and they change their mind a lot,” the AU$170 billion-dollar man said at Amazon’s artificial intelligence event, the re:MARS conference, in 2019.
“People who are right a lot change their mind without a lot of new data. They wake up and reanalyze things and change their mind.
“If you don't change your mind frequently, you're going to be wrong a lot. People who are right a lot want to disconfirm their fundamental biases.”
It wasn’t the first time Bezos had made such statements.
Visiting software company Basecamp in 2018, Bezos said the smartest people are those who are happy to change their mind. He told Basecamp CEO Jason Fried that consistency of thought isn’t a great thing, and that it’s healthy to think one thing one day and then find yourself debating that thought the next day.
And speaking at the 2016 Pathfinder Awards, Bezos said being prepared to change your mind is the best way to be right frequently.
“I do think that with practice, you can be right more often,” he said.
“I’ve observed people who are right a lot and I notice a few things about them and people who are right a lot – they listen a lot, and people who are right a lot, change their mind a lot.”
He said the practice of seeking to disconfirm “profoundly-held convictions” is unnatural, but as huge pay-offs.
“Humans mostly, as we go about life, we’re very selective about the evidence we let seep into us and we like to observe the evidence that confirms our pre-existing beliefs, and people who are right a lot work very hard to do that unnatural thing of trying to disconfirm their beliefs.”
He said it’s important to “never let anybody trap you with anything you said in the past” and criticised political discourse which attacks politicians who change their mind, noting that the world is complex and new data is always coming to light.
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs is also remembered as having a tendency to change his mind a lot.
“Steve would flip on something so fast that you would forget that he was the one taking the 180-degree polar opposite position the day before,” current CEO Tim Cook said about the late founder in 2012.
“I saw it daily. This is a gift, because things do change, and it takes courage to change. It takes courage to say, ‘I was wrong.’ I think he had that.”
It also makes you appear intelligent
According to the Harvard Business Review, changing your mind also makes you seem intelligent.
The Harvard Business School and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology researchers arrived at this conclusion after studying entrepreneurs during a pitch competition.
The majority of entrepreneurs were stubborn. When faced with contradictory evidence, 76 per cent refused to change their mind.
But entrepreneurs who changed their minds during the pitch were nearly six times more likely to progress.
Then, the researchers asked participants to play the role of investors evaluating those entrepreneurs.
“Similar to what we observed in the actual competition, participants believed that entrepreneurs who changed their minds should advance in the competition, compared to those who dug their heels in,” the researchers said.
“We also found that participants perceived those who changed their minds as lacking confidence, but demonstrating intelligence — the results suggest that in an entrepreneurial context at least, showcasing intelligence is ultimately paramount.”
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