Daniel Kahneman: The Value of Changing Your Mind

Daniel Kahneman: The Value of Changing Your Mind

Dr. Daniel Kahneman, winner of the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, joins us to discuss his book Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Nothing is absolute, and we learn new information all the time. In this video segment, Daniel discusses the value of changing our minds rather than digging in to defend a position that may no longer be right for us. The full version of the interview can be watched here. A full transcript follows the video.

Audience member: I've recently been studying an advertising agency that's been using a lot of your work to make very emotional advertisements, or advertisements that appeal to emotion. They've had some early and astounding success.

My question is, as people become more aware that they are emotional decision-makers, will the effectiveness of appealing to emotion to get people to make decisions, will that effectiveness go down?

Daniel Kahneman: It could. What happens with this, by and large when somebody tells you something or you get a message, our inclination is to believe what we hear and to be influenced by what we hear, including emotional appeals.

Our main defense against that is to tell an alternative story. "This person is lying to me. They're manipulating me. They're lying to me." You can't keep telling that to yourself, but if an advertising agency or a whole thing gets a reputation of being manipulative and dishonest, people may be able to resist their ads better.

But by and large, it's very difficult to resist advertisement because it works not only on emotional appeal. It works on sheer frequency. It's something that is almost impossible to resist. Something that gets repeated a lot feels truer. It feels more believable, and they really work on that.

Audience member: One of the great points in the wonderful book Influence, by Robert Cialdini, is that once we take a public stand it's very difficult for us to change our minds.

I was just watching an interview with Steve Jobs last night in which he said, essentially: "I don't care about being right or wrong. I care about success. I'm willing to change my mind every five minutes when I find that there's information that I didn't have, no matter how strong the stand I took was, or how aggressive or even rude I was about that point. If I find that I was wrong I'll change my mind immediately."

I wanted to hear what you think about the process of changing your mind, and how we might encourage that inside our company.

Kahneman: I think what you point out is really one of the major difficulties in people thinking, and probably in companies and institutions, that there is some stigma attached to changing your mind.

Now, I happen to be very extreme on this dimension. I change my mind all the time, and I change my mind in research all the time. That drives my collaborators -- also, I like to collaborate so I work with people -- and I drive my collaborators crazy. I change my mind.

I keep telling them ... and also I am not very respectful of their ideas, either. I keep telling them: "Look. I treat my ideas as badly as I treat yours. This is part of the process."

I think encouraging people to change their minds is a very, very good thing for an organization to do. That is, rewarding it. That we want people who can "think again."

One of the things that I find astonishing -- I now work in consulting, so it's very much on top of my mind -- you mention something to people in the business world; you suggest they should do X. Then they do X. Then two days later, I don't think they should do X. I've found a flaw in it. I think they should do X or Y.

You can feel that this is really alien to them, and can they trust me if I change my own mind?

Recognizing that the ability to change your mind is just part of good thinking ... that improvements in thinking are incremental. You don't find a flaw and fix it. You find a flaw and fix it, and then you find another flaw in the fixed thing. That's the way it works.

Recognizing that this is the process is very difficult, and I think very useful. Thanks for the question, by the way. I'd never heard that one before.

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