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Book synthesis

Question yourself to improve your flexibility

Intellectual agility is invaluable in a complex environment. It helps you adapt, learn, and get to grips with new situations without being encumbered by preconceived ideas. How agile are you?

Your brain is more rigid than you think. Cognitive biases encourage it to stick to its guns, brush off or denigrate anyone who contradicts it, and store only information that confirms previously held beliefs. Declaring that you’re open-minded doesn’t mean much if you don’t actively seek out new ideas that are far removed from your current convictions. You need flexibility now more than ever so that you can offload knowledge or opinions that no longer serve you well – or that even do you a disservice – and find new solutions. But acquiring and maintaining flexibility requires real practice.  

Based on

Think Again : The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know
 Adam Grant (Viking Press, February 2021). 

Opt for flexibility over consistency 

One of our many cognitive biases is the need for consistency. Our brain prefers anything that is consistent with its prior knowledge and decisions. This bias prompts it to discard data that might be out of sync, out of place, or that doesn’t fit into previously held conceptions. It’s a kind of cognitive laziness that serves a purpose most of the time: It means that we can react quickly by sticking to our usual modus operandi. But it’s a bias that can lead to unfortunate decision-making in situations where we need to unlearn our usual methods.  

A study of firefighter deaths in forest fires illustrates the fact that we need to train ourselves to replace consistency with flexibility. When firefighters are caught up in a fire and their priority is escape, they tend to stay consistent with their identity as firefighters and carry all their heavy equipment with them. One firefighter cited in Think Again made it out of the forest alive only by scrambling up a ravine. He realized at one point that he still had his chainsaw in his hand – and subsequently ditched it. Others, less fortunate, were found still carrying all their tools. 

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Florence Meyer
Published by Florence Meyer
Executive coach, change management expert, and author. Constantly on the lookout for the latest management and leadership trends.