Make better ideas by being fickle

Be fickle.

It’s a quality that you might not associate with great ideas or entrepreneurial triumph. But this might be a good time to review that. The best thing you can do with your ideas is to always be ready to abandon them.

I’m pretty sure that such fickleness is the secret super power of entrepreneurial winners. In fact I’d go further than mere fickleness. I’d describe it as brutal fickleness. When it comes to your ideas only a savage disregard for their continuance will serve you well.

So why should you practice and nurture your fickleness? Let’s first consider what entrepreneurship is. Undeniably it’s about leadership, shared vision and making a persuasive argument.

But at its heart, entrepreneurship is about creativity. It’s the business of making ideas manifest and if you’ve got a rubbish idea then the thing that you will make real will, I’m afraid, be crap too.

The starting point is to have the best idea for your business. This is true whether it’s a global digital business like, say, Dropbox or a local bike repair shop.

Thereafter, it’s still about ideas. Unless you have a monopoly position, your business success is about continually improving that idea and its manifestation to ensure your product or service is the best.

It follows then that the quality of your ideas is paramount and that is dependent on an open mind and, in turn, an open mind is the product of fickleness.

It’s simple Darwinian survival of the fittest. If you get too attached to your ideas and opinions and cannot allow criticism you will actually have stopped thinking. And that’s not good for business. The only ideas you should invest your time and energy in are this that are still standing after every challenge.

Instead of building protective walls around your ideas you should hold them so lightly that you are always ready to throw them on the fire if and when you discover they are no longer sound. How else can you be their fiercest critic?

Such low regard for your own hard-thought ideas and opinions may seem counterintuitive. After all, you’re well used to associating intellectual muscle power and entrepreneurial success with conviction, certainty and single-minded vision.

By the same token, the daily discourse of news media presents changing your mind as the-thing-that-must-never-be-conceded: a sign of weakness, the price of losing an argument and an embarrassing admission that you had been wrong.

The underlying presumption is that if you change your mind then you have failed is absurd given the world you inhabit. And this is especially so for entrepreneurs. Never in history has the future been so fast changing and uncertain: technology, innovation, and geo-politics and economics moves so fast that the only way to adapt is to be ready to abandon your ideas.

Principles on the other hand, are fundamental truths that do not change like the wind. These are your values, your moral code, the things that matter. Your true north.

But for your ideas it’s a different story. It turns out that only the ideas and opinions held in low regard will be whittled and moulded, or cast aside and replaced to accurately fit the facts as they emerge, evolve and morph.

So why does it feel so hard to change your mind? The baggage of daily language is at the heart of this. The words we ascribe to people who change their mind is unhelpful: Flip-flop. Weak. Inconsistent. Unreliable.

But there’s a remedy and it comes from entrepreneurial startup culture. The little-remarked upon gift of the startup movement is the word “pivot”. It’s a small word but it changes everything.

Pivot is shorthand for changing your mind and changing direction but it has the advantage of not having negative values attached to it. On the contrary, it sounds decisive and positive.

Startup companies pivot frequently. It’s what happens when you recognize that the company is going the wrong way (maybe it always was or maybe the world has changed) and needs to shift direction.

The temptation is to argue that the facts are wrong rather than your idea is wrong. Admitting an idea is no longer valid may feel like a weakness but in reality it is how you grow.

In the midst of perpetual change what is needed most of all is an open mind ready to adjust to new realities.

Sure, you need a plan and a vision. But to survive and then thrive you need to accept the speed at which the world changes. And when the pertinent facts change so must your plans.

Because here’s the flip side: If your opinions are too important to your sense of self to dare change them, if you must resist and defend every argument no matter what the facts are or what the reasoning is then you will not learn much that is new. Insisting on always being right increases the chances of always being wrong. After all, defending your opinion may also mean denying new facts or clinging to old consistencies. This is a loser’s game.

Winners are those that are the fastest to realise their understanding is wrong or out of date. This liberates them to do something about it.

In our world of permanent accelerating change you might be right when you form your opinion but you will probably be wrong by the time you defend it to the death.


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