If You Never Change Your Mind, You’re Doing It Wrong

Hopefully by now you’ve warmed up to the notion that productive conflict is important to encourage in your teams. To get the most out of their insights and input, you want to welcome opposition and creative pushback. The days of blindly following our leaders without objection or pressure-testing are behind us. In the knowledge economy, effective leaders encourage opposition to make sure the ultimate ideas are optimized and implementation challenges are mitigated. This is basic stuff—leadership 101 in today’s modern economy. But how do you know if you’re practicing it? Simple—ask yourself this question: How often are you changing your mind? What’s your flip-flop batting average?

Think about it. You change your mind when you’re convinced that someone else’s idea is better. If this never happens to you, you’re committing at least one of two mistakes: 1) you’re surrounding yourself with people who are dumber than you, and/or 2) you’re staying committed to bad ideas even when better ones are presented. Both of these are problems!

You want to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you—even if they aren’t necessarily smarter overall, you want people smarter in specific subject matters. This is why you hire them: to provide value that you can’t. Plus, if they are smarter than you, there’s a decent chance you’ll find your replacement among them when you’re ready for your next step. If you aren’t surrounding yourself with people smarter than you, then you are limiting your team to only what you know, which isn’t enough.

But even if you have smarties on your team, you can’t capitalize on their smarts if you’re staying committed to bad ideas even in the face of opposition. You have  to listen with an open mind. You have to have a strong opinion, loosely held. And in holding your opinions loosely, you have to be willing to let them go at times.

There’s no way you’re right all the time. Even a hall of fame major league batter only gets a hit less than 4 out of 10 times at bat. What’s your flip-flop batting average? If you aren’t changing your mind at least 30% of the time, I’d argue that you either aren’t surrounding yourself with sufficient talent who can take your ideas and improve them, and/or are frequently staying committed to garbage ideas in the face of valid opposition.

Work on decreasing your batting average—change your mind a few times. Force yourself to flip-flop at least 30% of the time. It’s likely to encourage your team to think more, encourage more pushback, and make you seem more approachable and interested in hearing from them. That, in turn, should help you create the psychological safety necessary to get the most of their collective ideas.

FOT Background Check

Ben Olds
Ben works in HR/OD at Merrimack Pharmaceuticals, a Cambridge company dedicated to the simple goal of trying to cure cancer… no big deal! Ben’s on his second career, having spent his first in business/strategy consulting, mostly with Bain & Co and Monitor Group, which basically just means he relies on MS Excel to solve virtually any problem he faces. If he’s not coaching or working with colleagues on their approach to leadership, he’s helping teams create effective dynamics or planning a recognition program to motivate employees. And sometimes, he’s chasing his wife around the ice hockey rink in his weekly pick-up game, or playing tennis, squash, skiing, hiking, mountain biking, or anything else to expend his nervous energy!

3 Comments

  1. Hi Ben,

    This article really dived deep into the topic about workplace dynamics and how a person’s assertiveness can get in the way of creating productive ideas. Adding that 30% of flexibility is an interesting point that you provided and I think it’s an essential outlook to team building. We have an article by our Founder and CEO, Geil Browning, about “Why Trusting Your ‘Gut Feeling’ Is Often the Best Strategy” on Inc.com. I think that after reading this article, her take on following your gut feeling is another version of the concept of believing in your opinion but also giving room for better ideas. Here’s a link to it: http://www.inc.com/geil-browning/go-with-your-gut-trusting-your-intuition.html

    Let us know what your take of the “gut feeling” is!

  2. Ox says:

    Ben, Tremendous insights. You seem like a very wise and inspiring man.

    I am wearing flip-flops right now, so your article immediately caught my interest. I do tend to live my life by connecting non-sequitur-ish fields of dreams. In this particular case your goal of a flip-flop batting average of 30% and my goal of wearing comfortable flip flops 100% of the time are so tastily laddering up to a combination nirvana. If I am able to do both, do you think I will be smarter, more productive, and happier somewhere between 30% and 100% of the time?

    Also, a particular dilemma I face is the flip-flop purgatory I currently am in. I am referring to the recommended batting average kind of purgatory and not the plush leather playas on my feet. This purgatory is occupied by a particular canny group of “smarties:” that have a synaptic rate that exceeds the average but is also lower than internal perception of said synaptic rate. It results in the creation of all sorts of sparklingly boisterous language insinuating greatness and superiority. In that cauldron of intense self-aggrandizement underwritten by a certain amount of above average capability, this group is completely incapable of taking a breath and just reaching out and asking for help when they need it. I just want to give them all a hug. Instead, I am going to do a trade and just accept I am wrong 30% of the time. Ox.

  3. Aneudy says:

    Wow Kath!!!! This is brilliant!!! I love it! Can you make ahneotr and send the pair to me! LOL!! Fabulous tag – sooo different, very pretty and yes, very feminine! I love it – I’d quite like a pair in pink!! Thanks so much for playing along with us! ;o) xx

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