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There's one clear sign Jeff Bezos looks for to gauge how smart people are

Áine Cain
  • Jeff Bezos, the CEO and founder of Amazon, has a strategy for identifying smart people.
  • The Amazon CEO shared his ideas about intelligence in a question-and-answer session with employees of Basecamp, a web-application company.
  • According to Bezos, smart people are always "reconsidering" problems.
  • In other words, the most intelligent people are confident enough to change their minds based on new evidence.

Want Jeff Bezos to think you're smart?

Admit you're wrong, and be big enough to change your mind.

That's the secret to impressing the Amazon CEO and founder.

Inc.'s Jessica Stillman recently reflected on an anecdote illuminating Bezos' ethos around intelligence. She cited a blog post in which Jason Fried, the CEO and founder of Basecamp, described an interaction with the Amazon CEO, who owns a small share in the web-application company.

Fried said Bezos once swung by Basecamp's office to talk strategy and chat with employees. In response to one question, the billionaire said "that the smartest people are constantly revising their understanding, reconsidering a problem they thought they'd already solved," according to Fried.

According to Fried's post, Bezos also said that people who are right a lot often change their minds a lot as well.

So for Bezos, smarts aren't about consistency or about becoming "obsessed with details," as Fried wrote. And being intelligent certainly isn't about doubling down in the face of evidence that runs counter to your ideas. According to Bezos, being truly smart is about being adaptive and open to new perspectives and ways of thinking.

Bezos famously has a lot of ideas about how to be smarter and more productive at work, as well as techniques for identifying talented people. And a lot of his insights have to do with embracing flexibility - whether that means delaying a "high IQ" meeting or opting for smaller, more effective team gatherings.

That being said, there's only so much room for failure.

Success at Amazon does depend on a person being "right a lot," according to an Amazon leadership principle. But a different principle encourages leaders at Amazon to "look for new ideas from everywhere," which fits in with Bezos' advice to Basecamp employees.