A Foolish Consistency: Bezos and Emerson Agree on Flexible Minds

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

Emerson wrote his essay on Self-Reliance in 1841, and a remarkable amount of it is still relevant today. For example, today’s post from Jason Fried on Signal Vs Noise shares a bit of similar wisdom from Jeff Bezos:

He said people who were right a lot of the time were people who often changed their minds.

He doesn’t think consistency of thought is a particularly positive trait. It’s perfectly healthy — encouraged, even — to have an idea tomorrow that contradicted your idea today.

At the root of this observation and advice is a trait of mental flexibility. If you’re open to the possibility that you’re going to change your mind, if you’re willing to leave the details from time to time and try a new point of view…you might find yourself a luckier person.

No, really.

According to research by UK psychologist Richard Wiseman, a key characteristic of “luckier” people is an ability to remove the blinders. As described on Jonathan Fields’ blog:

He gave both the “lucky” and the “unlucky” people a newspaper and asked them to look through it and tell him how many photographs were inside. He found that on average the unlucky people took two minutes to count all the photographs, whereas the lucky ones determined the number in a few seconds.

How could the “lucky” people do this? Because they found a message on the second page that read, “Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.”

Call it luck or call it skill, the ability to be have a flexible mind is a critical component of getting things right.