question-5-of-5-future-1525616Last week I was in the car driving and listening to the Jeff Blair Show on Sportsnet 590 The Fan and while discussing the pitching situation with the Toronto Blue Jays coming out of the trade deadline he said something that really stuck out to me. He had recently changed his position and opinion on whether pitcher Aaron Sanchez should move to the bullpen or stay in the starting line-up and he was catching a lot of listener ire for that change in position.

The thing that really caught my ear was the fact that the listener issues were largely with the fact that he had changed his mind, not with whether the listeners agreed with his position (new or old). People simply didn’t like the fact that he had CHANGED his position. Somewhat flipantly Jeff said something that I think is a pretty profound statement on our society and one of the reasons that creativity and innovation is so hard in our organizations:

Changing your mind is generally considered a weakness.

Is that true? Do we really believe that a change of mind is a sign of being WEAK?

The more I have thought about it since I heard it the more I think Jeff was bang on the money. He may see it much more in his line of work dealing with sports fans and a broad listening populous, but if I’m being honest I’ve seen it far too many times in the business world (and likely even been guilty of attributing weakness to one of my leaders who changed their mind once or twice in the past).

For those of us who have studied topics related to innovation and creativity we know that one of the key needs for a strong creative or innovative process is the ability to fail, the ability to change course, and the willingness to question everything through a strong and rapid feedback loop cycle. It is standard practice to need to change your mind as part of the innovation process so it can not be considered a weakness if you are going to be successful.

But if we consider that society at large (or at least the sample size that listens to AM Sports Radio is to be believed) actually behaves as if changing one’s mind is a sign of weakness then it is no wonder that so many organizations struggle to really build buy in to the innovation agenda and culture.

We all have examples of the leader who talked about and promoted innovation in all of their speeches but then proceeded to punish the resulting failures (no matter the magnitude). We have seen leaders say they believe in leveraging creativity and design, but then fall back almost immediately to established processes and procedures.

Perhaps those leaders aren’t “weak” leaders but are rather simply following the pervasive attitude that exists in society more broadly. Maybe our society needs an innovative “kick in the pants” to eliminate the stigma of changing one’s mind.

In my experience there is untold value to be found by asking the questions and learning throughout a process. Sometimes it is necessary to take a position (even if it is only to get the conversation started) and then through the questioning and learning process you gain more information and need to change your mind and change course. If you wait until you have all the information to take a position or make a decision you are likely too late (and may never get to that decision point).

Taking a position and making a decision even with imperfect information is one of the key hallmarks of every great leader I have ever worked with. Similarly being willing to face the music and the “whispers” and change one’s mind when faced with new information or ideas has also been a staple characteristics of those great leaders.

We need to kill this view that change = weakness because in my experience:


About Tim Empringham, MBA
Tim Empringham is a passionate advocate for Innovation in organizations of all sizes as a mechanism to drive growth, create uncontested market space, create new customer value, and drive efficiency into the internal organization. His focus is on disruption of thinking and markets through integrative thinking, structured Innovation frameworks, and leadership development of Innovation and Change leaders within the organization.

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