When I was about 6 or 7 years old, I had a friend at my house. My older brother did something nasty to the kid, as he commonly did back then, leaving my friend nearly frozen with rage. He pointed at my brother, apoplectic, shouting, “you, you, you,…”, putting great thought into what to call him that was bad enough to equal my brother’s actions. Finally, he said, “you… DOCTOR!”, summoning up the worst possible name he could think of.
Nowadays, the worst name you can call someone is “Flip-Flopper”. The term isn’t new (apparently Ford called Carter one, and Mike Dukakis called Dick Gephard one), but it seems to have really picked up steam. Mitt Romney is the current politician with a “flip-flop” problem. John Kerry had an epic flip-flop problem – it probably cost him the election in 2004. But why is it so bad? Being a “flip-flopper” suggests you lack conviction – and making you appear weak, effete, untrustworthy. Americans have become maniacal about demanding 100% steadfast, unwavering devotion to any idea. It’s a singular American image – standing up for what you believe is right, even against great adversity, like John Wayne, the men at Iwo Jima, Charlie Sheen. Others may go with the flow, take the easy route, bend to opposition. But not those devoted, steadfast few, the non-Flip-floppers.
But the truth is that flip-flopping can be a good thing. It can demonstrate a number of extremely positive attributes and behaviors. Are you willing to flip-flop?
1) It shows you’re willing to say the magic words “I don’t know”
Like I’ve said before, certainty and surety are fine in a black-and-white world, but what world is black-and-white? If you allow yourself to be uncertain, then you can question freely – yourself, your assumptions and the way you’ve always done things. And you can’t imagine how empowering it is to a team for a leader to allow for the fact that he doesn’t know everything.
2) You are able to admit you were wrong
I don’t care how smart you are, you can’t always right. It’s important to be open to being wrong, to making mistakes, to changing your mind. In fact, you can learn more from your mistakes and failures than your successes.
3) It demonstrates thinking
Most issues are complicated and complex. No matter how well you’ve thought through the topic, there’s likely more you don’t know or haven’t seen. So changing your mind could be driven by learning – by hearing additional information, and then deciding differently. There are many who don’t seem to believe it (or at least don’t demonstrate that they’re in favor of it), but thinking is good. If thinking causes one to reach a different conclusion than he reached before, it’s a good thing in my book.
4) You recognize the importance of context
Context plays an important part of our decision-making. There are times a decision one way may makes sense, and other times it won’t. Romney’s support of a woman’s right to choose while Governor of Massachusetts made sense – his electorate supported it. His flip-flop against it now is due to a change in his context and his following his own, personal beliefs. The same can be true in business – as contexts change, a decision may need to, also.
5) You believe in empirical evidence (even when it’s contrary to your in-going assumptions and beliefs)
Blind faith may work in religion, but it doesn’t work in politics or business. Belief is fine, as well – but belief is essentially an untested hypothesis. Learning, experience and data should help mold your beliefs – and if it causes a change in your views, then good for you. It’s like turning the steering wheel if you’re driving towards a cliff – if the evidence indicates the direction you are going is wrong, I suggest turning.
6) You recognize that things change
One thing that will never change is the fact that things always change. And with the accelerating pace of technology, things are changing faster than ever. A decision made today could be affected by tomorrow’s new normal. Remember it’s not weak to address change with new, and changed approaches. In fact, it takes even more strength.
7) It shows a respect for nimbleness
Due to the increasing pace of change, there’s a demand for greater flexibility and nimbleness. People, organizations, even entire industries are being forced to adapt, evolve and make wholesale changes to address the new realities. Staying steadfast to an out-moded model isn’t showing conviction, it’s showing ignorance.
So from now on, investigate further what’s making a flip-flopper flip-flop. It might be something you respect.