Why It’s Time To Defy Our First Instincts

From the moment we take our first test at school, we’re told by parents and teachers that we should go with the first response that comes to us. Our gut tells us the right answer, according to popular wisdom, and changing our mind is counter-productive.

The only problem, of course, is that scientific researchers have been looking at this very issue for around a century, and their unmistakable conclusion is that nothing could be further from the truth. We are much more likely to change our answers from wrong to right, and test-taking students who change their answers tend to improve their scores rather than making them worse.

The so-called “first instinct fallacy” suggests that we stubbornly stick to the answer that instantly pops into our head, because of the potential unhappiness of knowing we had the right answer all along and changed our mind at the last moment. 

In reality, if we are having second thoughts, it’s probably happening for a reason.

There are clear implications for business leaders from a deeper understanding of the first instinct fallacy. CEOs and C-suite executives have often risen to the top because of their ability to steer the ship through choppy waters with good decision making. They trust their gut instinct to guide them through the most difficult choices that leaders have to make, and many find it difficult to hear contrary voices that are urging a different path.

In his latest book Think Again, Wharton psychologist Adam Grant sums up just how difficult it is for leaders to take a second opinion. “We surround ourselves with people who agree with our conclusions, when we should be gravitating toward those who challenge our thought process,” says Grant. “The result is that our beliefs get brittle long before our bones. Intelligence is no cure, and it can even be a curse: there’s evidence that being good at thinking can make us worse at rethinking. The brighter we are, the blinder to our own limitations we can become.”

At Boldsquare, we work with leaders of public and private organizations to help them challenge their own opinions, and drive consistent, sustainable and meaningful change. We’ve been in the room as businesses have pushed themselves to take a different path when it would be simpler for them to keep with the status quo. We’ll be the first to admit that it’s not always easy for experienced executives to accept that there might be another way. But if you can harness the power of changing your mind, all the indications are that your business will be better as a result.