There's a ton of advice out there for entrepreneurs on how to be resilient and stick with your dreams in the face of rejection. Obviously, toughness is a useful quality when it comes to building a business. But new research out of Harvard suggests that when grit turns into stubbornness you pay a steep cost. 

In a series of experiments highlighted recently on the Harvard Business Review site, the research team found that changing your mind actually makes entrepreneurs appear more intelligent, while steadfastly sticking to your guns causes people to see you as dumber. 

Changing your mind is a sign of smarts, not weakness. 

Imagine you're pitching investors on your business and they bring up evidence that contradicts a claim you've made in your presentation. What's the best way to respond? Acknowledging the new information and changing your mind might make you look flakey and ill-informed. On the other hand, ignoring reality is never a recipe for success. 

It's a tricky situation, but thanks to the work of Harvard's Francesco Gino and Leslie K. John and collaborators we now know conclusively which path is your best bet. Their team tested this scenario both by looking at the outcome of real-life pitch competitions and by running experiments in their lab. 

"Entrepreneurs who changed their minds during the pitch were almost six times more likely to advance to the final round of the competition," they found. Why was that? The researchers ran simulated pitch competitions to find out, and again observed that participants had a higher opinion of entrepreneurs who changed their minds compared to those who dug in their heels. 

The reason was simple. "Participants perceived those who changed their minds as lacking confidence, but demonstrating intelligence," they observed. 

Further studies showed that there are a few contexts, like public speaking, in which the cost in perceived confidence of changing your mind was higher than the benefit of appearing smarter, but they were few and far between. In entrepreneurship, as in most areas of business and life, smarts trumps bluster. And changing your mind publicly makes you look smart. 

Super successful people already know this. 

This research might come as a shock to some hard-charging types who were taught that changing course makes you look weak. But it wouldn't surprise Jeff Bezos. The Amazon boss is on record as saying the ability to change your mind in the face of new evidence is his number one sign of high intelligence.

Other top thinkers, like Stanford's Bob Sutton and VC Fred Wilson, have also endorsed the idea that the smartest people have "strong opinions, weakly held." To know if someone is super intelligent, they suggest, ask not just about the intensity of their convictions, but also about their willingness to change them in light of new information. 

Hal Gregersen, the executive director of the MIT Leadership Center, even goes so far as to suggest that, if you want to be smarter, every morning, "go into your day saying, 'I know there's some corner of my mental model that's off. How and when am I going to surface that?'" In other words, each morning ask yourself what opinion you'll change that day

The point of all these examples is that changing your mind in light of new evidence is one of the best signals of intelligence out there. Any smart person you're dealing with will know that and will see a well considered shift in opinion as a sign of your high IQ. 

Not only should you not be afraid of changing your mind then. You shouldn't be afraid of doing it publicly either. Be proud of your willingness to show of your smarts by saying, 'Hey, I was wrong.' It's a badge of intelligence, not weakness. 

Published on: Sep 19, 2019
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