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Change Your Mind but Keep Your Identity

Updated: Apr 12, 2021

How often do you change your mind? Accept you might be wrong? Not often? It denies us the dopamine hit of being right.

And because we don’t like change, we don’t update our beliefs with new evidence and miss opportunities. And so our reasoning remains not just unchecked but inaccurate.

Rethinking your opinions - changing your mind when your arguments are proved wrong or someone makes a better argument is not what we do. Or enjoy doing.

Think about it. Maybe you think you’re creative. After all, you were recently complimented on your design skills! And last week, you generated new ideas which everyone liked. You also read that Capricorns are creative. This supportive data confirms belief in your creativity. But you may actually rank in the lowest percentile of creative people.

We’re predisposed from a range of unconscious biases to not change our mind

- confirmation bias (we confirm what we hear),

- overconfidence, (we overweight our opinions); - endowment effect (we overvalue our ideas);

- the illusion of validity (we overestimate the accuracy of our own judgments).

The prevalence of confirmation bias is vastly underestimated in business and politics. You may accept what fawning employees or bisses tell you, edpe especially when it’s what you want to hear or already believe.

When challenged with a different perspective, people tend to hunker down, limiting critical thinking, like the sports fans who deny teams can underperform. Exceptional leaders encourage this, like Abraham Lincoln who actively sought that his cabinet challenge him. Contrast this with authoritarian regimes, like Pol Pot or Kim Yong-un.

The polarisation effect strengthens. Is pre-judgement a combination of confirmation bias, sunk cost fallacy and group debate? Using 2016 election data, US voters were found to rate poll results as more credible and trustworthy but only if results corresponded with their political expectations.[i]

Overconfident leaders think they know more than they do, supported by readily-accepted numbers, blanket averages, unchallenged experts, crowd and trends. Leaders know that gaining independent perspectives produces better solutions.

Yet most overweight our own opinion and initiatives and neglect to consult others in the Endowment effect. We love our own ideas!

Can reconsidering your arguments really make your life better? Can it make you more successful? And happier? Adam Grant, Wharton's top-rated professor and #1 bestselling author, argues why we should embrace and enjoy being wrong. Grant encourages us to rethink topics like abortion and climate change and to build communities of lifelong learners. Perhaps.

If you’re like others, you revel in learning something new – you regain childlike wonder and feel that little bit smarter, or even smug!

Clinging to biases deprives us of aha moments. With every insight, your world adds another shade of grey. People must be armed with aha moments and reduce the chances of bad decisions.

Digitization has simultaneously shrunk and expanded our perimeters. Google, Netflix, Spotify and Linked-in trade on ‘filter bubbles’. They feed us like-minded articles, films and friends - rarely a counterfactual. Sophisticated algorithms subtly shrink our horizons, affecting what and how much we hear. If you’re a Republican, you’re fed articles to comport with political views. But within this, social media has immortalised our opinions and beliefs. This extensive documentation makes it more difficult to reverse opinions and change your mind. Attention manipulations result in fewer ‘aha’ moments and restricts our creative juices. A problem for businesses reliant on innovation and growth – that’s most businesses!

What to do?

1. Resist excessive perspective sharing on social media.

2. People associate beliefs with their identity eg sports, religion. Try to divorce these.

3. Harvard Professor, Arthur C Brooks suggest we think small. Start with less emotive ideas like reading preferences or musical taste.

As pointed out by Nobel Prize economist, Paul Samuelson “When events change, I change my mind. What do you do?”


[i] Hillygus, Sunshine; Gabriel Madson, 2019, "Republication Data for "All the Best Polls Agree with Me"",, Harvard Dataverse, V2.


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