“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”
John Maynard Keynes
In a leadership position, we need to hold our opinions lightly. We need to be able to change our opinion or viewpoint when new data or insight comes to our attention.
Unfortunately, like politicians, many of us get locked into our opinions and continue to hold and advance these opinions in order not to appear as a “waffler.” Worse than that, many of us are subject to confirmation bias whereby we use new data to confirm what we already believe rather than to critically assess and then update our opinions.
Keeping an open mind as new data come in is vital:
- We need to avoid making judgments on first impressions or other similar snap judgments
- We need to continually update our views of other people as we work with them more.
- We need to get all sides to an argument updating our views as additional information comes in
- We need to not get locked into a first hypothesis that we may be working under
In addition, we need to express our uncertainty in our opinions and decisions – “I am 80% certain that this…”. By expressing this uncertainty, we allow our team members to share their viewpoints and express their own uncertainty. By expressing this uncertainty, we will be holding “grayer” opinions. We will be less likely to see everything as black or white: this person is totally wrong, and this person is totally correct. Instead, we will see things in shades of gray: this person’s views seem more accurate right now than that other person.
The challenge in holding our opinions lightly is two-fold:
First, we may need to unlearn that we have always thought is true and how the world works.
“The illiterate of the 21st century will be those…who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
Secondly, we then need to have the humility and the courage to change our minds and then admit that we were wrong to ourselves, our bosses, peers, and direct reports.
“And science means that you must change your mind when the evidence changes, however inconvenient that might be.”
Environmental Activist Mark Lynas (Who campaigned for years against GMO foods only to change his mind after the preponderance of evidence emerged that GMO foods were safe)
Holding our opinions lightly is a challenge; but it is essential to ensure that we follow the facts and the data, keep our opinions current with how the world works today, and then make the best decision possible with all the information available to us.
While we may hold our opinions lightly and sometimes change our positions back and forth, we need to be firm with our convictions and make sure that we never violate our principles and values in either our opinions or our actions.