Jeff Bezos stopped by our office yesterday and spent about 90 minutes with us talking product strategy. Before he left, he spent about 45 minutes taking general Q&A from everyone at the office.
During one of his answers, he shared an enlightened observation about people who are “right a lot”.
He said people who were right a lot of the time were people who often changed their minds. He doesn’t think consistency of thought is a particularly positive trait. It’s perfectly healthy — encouraged, even — to have an idea tomorrow that contradicted your idea today.
He’s observed that the smartest people are constantly revising their understanding, reconsidering a problem they thought they’d already solved. They’re open to new points of view, new information, new ideas, contradictions, and challenges to their own way of thinking.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a well formed point of view, but it means you should consider your point of view as temporary.
What trait signified someone who was wrong a lot of the time? Someone obsessed with details that only support one point of view. If someone can’t climb out of the details, and see the bigger picture from multiple angles, they’re often wrong most of the time.
Derekon 19 Oct 12
I hope he doesn’t change his mind about that
Joshon 19 Oct 12
You may have already seen it, but Nate Silver’s book “The Signal and the Noise” was released recently and talks of this same phenomenon. “Hedgehogs versus foxes”, as he describes it.
Stephen Vardyon 19 Oct 12
I was going to say something but I changed my mind. No wait…. Yeah that’s better. No wait… In fact there is another way that is more to the point. Can you categorize this post under “Marriage counselling”? My wife needs to read and understand this. The whole concept of serial revision of thought is baffling to her and a source of constant irritation and bewilderment. The world is a “known” place is it not.
Blessed be the unknown.
Jonathan Freion 19 Oct 12
It is great to be willing and able to change your mind. (As is changing a blog’s design. Nice work, 37signals.)
Tanner Christensenon 19 Oct 12
It’s simple if you think about it.
The people who are successful are typically either very lucky, or very self-aware about what they do and do not know. Part of knowing what you do and do not know is accepting when what you think you know is really what you thought you knew.
Fortunately for us the world is a massive state of constantly changing information, so even if you know you know something today, it could change tomorrow. You can either falsely believe what you did yesterday, or change.
Salmon Fryon 19 Oct 12
I really think bacon is a good
Nealon 19 Oct 12
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Benjyon 19 Oct 12
And yet when political candidates do this they’re called flip-floppers and wafflers… of course, it depends if they change their view because of additional consideration on the issue or changes in the facts of the issue since their initial view was expressed, or whether it’s purely politically-motivated “preaching to the choir” in front of different constituencies.
Jonason 19 Oct 12
Benjy: Jeff specifically mentioned how it’s weird that politicians are expected to have consistent, steadfast views over long periods of time. Seems totally counterproductive.
Pascal Lalibertéon 19 Oct 12
Jason: Would you say you’re a competitive person? And is it important to be competitive to build a business? More specifically, is it important to want to best out some other person or some other company or some other idea?
In Getting Real you spoke of picking an enemy. But I don’t get a sense that it’s out of a sense of competition. If anything, the competition is internal, with and between your own judgements and ideals. Is there something there?
Mr. Scion 19 Oct 12
Thesis -> Antithesis -> Synthesis.
Bobon 19 Oct 12
Jonas: I like your take on politicians. Seems to me that any sane person would change their take on some positions over time if new information comes in, situations change, or the problems call for different solutions.
We are a strange species, humans.
David Andersenon 19 Oct 12
The rules for politicians are different. They are under a lot of pressure to maintain certain lines of thought, especially the ones whose careers depend on it (party support). Yet another way dominant party systems destroy creative action (at least in America). Of course it’s our own damn fault…
Bez Jeffoson 19 Oct 12
I used to be indecisive but now I’m not so sure…
ploogmanon 19 Oct 12
So he is voting for Romney?
Wilmanon 19 Oct 12
Great post! Hey I wanted to say I love this new blog style! Great design! Big fonts and particularly great for the iPad. Kudos guys! I love your work
Krishon 19 Oct 12
This is what scientific process is all about. He just used layman’s language instead of terms like model, data, experimental verification, etc. #yawn
Olusegunon 19 Oct 12
If Jeff said that to me in this context, though I wouldn’t conclude, but I would among many considerations consider him saying: “hey you guys, maybe change your mind and raise an IPO”
Clareon 19 Oct 12
Kathy Sierraon 19 Oct 12
Oh how I love this! Changing your mind is not without consequences; people can view it as a betrayal, and there’s often tremendous pressure (and a powerful feedback loop) keeping us saying the same things…
My favorite take on this is from the French philosopher Michel Focault, who was criticized for changing his views over time:
When people say, ‘Well, you thought this a few years ago and now you say something else,’ my answer is… [laughs] ‘Well, do you think I have worked hard all those years to say the same thing and not to be changed?’
And the big one (for me):
“The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning.”
It takes a certain courage to change your mind, especially when it’s something you’ve talked about publicly. But as Facault suggested, what is the point of continuing to study and experiment and work if we’re not going to change?
Randallon 19 Oct 12
++Josh. Nate Silver’s ‘The Signal And The Noise’ is a great warning to never assume you can figure the world out from a few stats or broad principles; you need to get good information and test your mental models against reality.
I think Silver falls down a bit when he turns to making decisions faced with uncertainty; for someone who generally acknowledges how messy the world is, I’m surprised he was so harsh on the folks who made informed but ultimately inaccurate forecasts about flu or climate change, rather than concluding ‘maybe it was smart to prep vaccines for potential pandemics, even if some of them didn’t happen’ or ‘time showed our old global warming models needed tweaking, so we’ve adapted; hooray.’
A friend suggested Bruce Schneier (Secrets and Lies) as a complement/counterpoint to Silver; whereas Silver is all about forecasts, Bruce is all about common-sense decisions. Started Secrets and Lies just recently, but having followed Bruce through the years I’m inclined to believe my friend.
Justin Reeseon 19 Oct 12
@Benjy/Jonas: Context and manner are important. A politician who visibly reconsiders a position and articulates his change of heart is very different from one who claims to have always been at war with Eeastasia.
plbon 19 Oct 12
Strong opinions, weakly held.
dwayneon 20 Oct 12
I love this.
It’s fun to make fun of it on a surface level, but Bezos isn’t saying change for change’s sake; he’s saying commit to your position unless you discover a better explanation/approach.
Kathrynon 20 Oct 12
OMG…I sent this to my husband. He hates it when I change my mind. He’s very intelligent…but very rigid. I cannot understand why he doesn’t understand that “things change”...”now I have a better idea”, etc. Makes my poor husband crazy. He’s a deeper thinker. I go by intuition…which means I don’t really think much about it…ideas just come to me…and nothing is impossible. Did I mention that I am a farmer? What I love most about animals and vegetables is that they don’t care if you change your mind…often. Okay…now the dog food is over there…no…better over here.
Let’s put the
RaycerXon 20 Oct 12
Changing one’s mind on a subject because new information has arrived over the course of time is one thing. Changing it on a daily or weekly basis is only confusing to those around you and shows a lack of leadership and discipline. It also suggests you’re schizophrenic…
Matthew Tarron 20 Oct 12
Ralph Waldo Emerson said it a long time ago… “foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.”. Jeff Bezos is an impressive person, Emerson was one of the MOST impressive people ever.
Thomas Madiaon 20 Oct 12
He is just trying to justify his call for patent reform, he used “one-click” patent to get super-rich, and now he has changed his tune, and he is now advocating < href=”http://www.metro.co.uk/tech/915146-amazon-founder-jeff-bezos-calls-for-governments-to-end-patent-wars”>against patents because he is about to violate some of them and make some more money, anyway he is right, you must change your mind to suit your present.
Thomas Madiaon 20 Oct 12
He is just trying to justify his call for patent reform, he used “one-click” patent to get super-rich, and now he has changed his tune, and he is now advocating against patents because he is about to violate some of them and make some more money, anyway he is right, you must change your mind to suit your present.
TVDon 20 Oct 12
@Jeff Bezos: Great advice!
Sun Tzu believed great strategists respond appropriately to changing conditions. That response is always informed by the tangible and the intangible. The statistics, the numbers, the analysis factor into good decisions. The leaders gut feeling about ground conditions and chances for success also play a strong factor.
The best decisions happen at the crossroads of the two; held steady by mission and purpose.
Marcon 20 Oct 12
I’m surprised no one has mentioned Steve Jobs. He was famous for changing his mind from one day to the next. And also famous for annoying his colleagues because of it.
Still, great advice.
BTon 20 Oct 12
People who keep changing their mind creates confusion to the other people who are affected by the change. They appear not sure of themselves, weak and seem to make a poor leader. Changing mind often leads to lost of trust and credibility.
Jeffon 20 Oct 12
Jason, what’s up with your racist and falsely modest biographical snippet? It takes away from the content of this post. “Fastest white man you’ll ever meet”?
Johnon 21 Oct 12
. . . as long as you’re not dealing with presidential politics.
Billon 21 Oct 12
It’s not how much we know – it’s how much we know that simply isn’t (or is no longer) so.
Claude Nougaton 21 Oct 12
Glad to know that some really successful people like Jeff Bezos think that! I constantly change my opinion and I felt that was my deepest failure…Tried to toe the line and never could. If some new info pops up that changes a given, up I go in another direction…Oh well, thanks for sharing, very stimulating, uplifting opinion, that!
Bassemon 21 Oct 12
I’m not really sure if this piece of advice applies to every context and scenario. If inconsistency of opinions means openness to options then yeah I believe this advice is spot on! However if inconsistency means the decisions of today can be reverted tomorrow, thus liberating myself from the responsibility of the ripples and consequences of my actions, this is not acceptable at all! On a personal level, I’m against justifying bad judgement and indecisiveness with the claim that inconsistency is a good thing. I believe the concepts of adaptation, fast responsiveness and openness are the key points of success.
Amid Amidion 22 Oct 12
I just finished writing a biography of legendary Disney director and animator Ward Kimball, who was attuned to new artistic trends and developments until the last day of his life. Ward shared advice similar to Jeff’s when he wrote to a young artist in 1973: “Don’t become dogmatic because you’re going to change your mind about what you like and what you dislike hundreds of times before you’re thirty! This will happen if you develop your imagination along with your curiosity.” It’s a slightly different way of phrasing Jeff’s thoughts, but the sentiment is much the same.
Devanon 22 Oct 12
Wait, can we quantize what really constitutes ‘changing of mind’? If it is constant flip flopping between polar opposites, is that really productive or meaningful?
For example, if I was to always say “I love bacon” one day, then “I hate bacon” the day after, it really doesn’t lead to anything useful.
If however, I was to say today “Bacon is the best food on the planet”, then tomorrow (upon further reflection), I say “Actually, I think cupcakes may be better than bacon” then at least we are on a path to somewhere.
Similarly, if I was to then come along and say “I still love bacon, but I recognise now that it is not good for my arteries”, then there is still demonstrated learning and discovery in that process.
Billon 22 Oct 12
I have mixed feelings on this subject. There are those people who change their mind constantly and, as a result, never finish anything. I personally have fallen into this trap and learned the hard way.
I agree with everything in the article with the strong caveat that a drive for results is equally essential.
Steven Kaneon 22 Oct 12
Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes. —Walt Whitman
Bill Guschwanon 22 Oct 12
To continue Mr. Sci’s comment about the process of synthesis and using Twitter as an example, Buddhist philosophy talks about a four fold path of knowledge for being. Aristotle had a similar one and Aristotle is capitalized below. 1) I FORMALly assert this (it is podcasts) 2) Number 1 is not MATERIALly possible ( it is not podcasts as not market ready) 3) I EFFICIENTly both formally assert my proposition while dealing with material impossibility (it is podcasts and it is not a market for podcasts) 4) I FINALly realize what is asserted is not it and it is materially possible and it is something else (it is neither it is podcasts or is not market ready, it is Twitter). For example, Twitter arose from this process from Odeo. It is a basic philosophy of being, and for business entrepreneurs, they need a philosophy of being, not philosophy of logical truth. So I imagine that is what Mr. Bezos was getting at about how to think.
Dustinon 23 Oct 12
This is funny. I was reading from a textbook/reference book The Portable MBA in Entrepreneurship and there was a chapter on fostering Creativity. The part that stuck with me was regarding the left brain/right brain misconception that you are typically one or the other. The reality was that people who were found to be successfully creative and successful in a variety of situations (probably appearing to be correct more often than not) used both sides equally and were often in conflict with themselves. Changing your mind, arguing with yourself, these are all apparently good things that also make you look like a crazy person :)
Elvin Turneron 23 Oct 12
I love this…being able to live with ambiguity is a huge issue for most leaders, especially in highly disruptive industries. Without wanting to shamelessly self-promote, last night Nokia posted something on this issue – includes interviews with Alex Osterwalder and myself: http://bit.ly/TMraEf
Joshon 23 Oct 12
Don’t mistake indecisiveness for varying perspectives. Actions still need to be made.
Seanon 23 Oct 12
It’s easy to be right all the time when you are constantly changing your mind to the correct answer.
Much harder to trudge out through the naysayers and/or deniers and push on through for months, years, or decades until they turn around and say, “You know what? You were right.”
Bill DAlessandroon 23 Oct 12
And yet we consistently and ruthlessly skewer our politicians for “flip flopping”. Perhaps we should consider it a positive trait to adapt your thinking given new information, rather than cling to party politics or past statements.
Adamon 24 Oct 12
Breaking a promise is generally not considered a positive character trait. People vote for politicians based on their platform, not their “dynamically creative” ability to change their mind.
Claudioon 25 Oct 12
Definition of a fascist: a wobbler who has taken a firm decision.
jameson 25 Oct 12
I’m not convinced.
Here’s what I said in response
This discussion is closed.