The Underrated Virtue of Changing Your Mind

At Bona Law, nobody owns any ideas. If I come up with an argument for a brief, it isn’t the Jarod-Bona idea. If a client or a paralegal or a junior attorney or my six-year-old son tells me that the strategy that I have set on a complex antitrust case has a flaw, he or she is not criticizing my idea or strategy.

When someone owns an idea they have a stake in defending it, even if new or different ideas or new information makes the old idea not worth supporting. If you want to optimize strategy, arguments, or anything else when you represent a client, you can’t cling to ideas or theories that no longer represent the best thinking.

That is why at Bona Law, I strongly encourage and remind everyone to criticize current ideas and to present new ones. Each person has a unique life experience, perspective, and focus, so anyone on the team can improve any aspect of a case, from the grammar, formatting, or punctuation of a sentence, to the overall strategy of a series of complex antitrust actions. Each person is welcome to support or criticize any idea because none of us owns any of them.

That approach is also important because we all have blind spots such that someone else’s fresh perspective will see a large smudge that you might miss on a paper that you have been staring at all day. That is part of why I recommend that you hire a separate appellate attorney.

But changing your mind isn’t just about a fresh perspective to something you may have missed, though that is significant. Sometimes new information should cause you to rethink your initial idea, even if your convictions were firm. Even better, with time you should develop greater knowledge, wisdom, and insight. You should also be exposed to the perspectives of more people, whether through actual interaction, literature, podcasts, biographies, and everything else.

Anyone that clings to a past idea when new information and their own development makes that idea foolish is, in fact, a fool.

Politics

Let’s move to politics, where reason makes an appearance, but doesn’t have a starring role (this from someone that used to work in Washington, DC).

In politics, changing your mind is a sin, to be punished by excoriations from your political opponents, but even more so from the press. When it comes to the media, showing an inconsistency between a politician or policymaker’s prior position and their current position makes for an easy story: This politician took position “X” five years ago, now they take position “Y”—time for outrage.

Instead of celebrating the individual’s growth or ability to adjust to new situations or information, the media and others rip into them for their “inconsistency.” At some level, it isn’t a surprise because “consistency” is a human construct that makes us all feel better, as Robert Cialdini explained in his famous book “Influence.”

But if you want good policy or decision-making, putting pressure on politicians to maintain consistency for the fact of it will lead to sub-optimal results.

We should want our leaders to freely change their mind when the situation calls for it. We hire them for their leadership, courage, and ability to adjust to whatever arises in this increasingly complex world. We don’t hire them as robots, programmed to apply a programmed pattern of stated preferences.

Nobody owns any ideas. Collectively, let’s search for and apply the best ones. And let’s skip the fake outrage when someone changes their mind or adjusts their thinking.