Changing your mind

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Nick Mackeson-Smith
Nick Mackeson-Smith
Chief Curiosity Officer, Founder and Director
August 11, 2021

Changing your mind is ok

When I was younger, I’d often find myself rushed or pressured into making my mind up. Even worse, I’d often be encouraged - especially at University - to “Make up your mind up and stick with it”. Indecision, or the inability to hold to a decision was portrayed as bad or problematic, and would often lead to frustration in those around you.

Why is this? What is it about indecision that causes annoyance and angst and - at times - vitriol?  I thought I’d made my mind up before I started writing this article, but now I’m not so sure anymore!

In modern ways of working / new ways of working / future ways of working / agile, the ability to pivot and adapt is a highly cherished and sought after skill. Those who can rapidly change their mind, or rapidly unlearn and relearn things are the champions of the world, and their success comes from their mastery of not sticking to decisions.

Did this happen with the arrival of our new age of working? Did I miss the moment when it happened, and only just noticed it now? Is this a symptom of what it now takes to be successful in a VUCA world? Those questions are hard to answer, but what I do know is that we as a society have collectively begun to shift what we value in decision-making, and our new set of values looks an awful lot like this:

What’s perceived to be annoying

Changing your mind

What’s seen as good

Adaptability, or an ability to pivot

What’s seen as bad


This month, I heard the return of “Make your mind up and stick with it”, but what surprised me is that it came out of my mouth! I cried “re-litigation”!

But I’m an agile practitioner? I’m adaptable? I’m open to change? I’m ENORMOUSLY flexible. How could this happen to me? When did I lose the ability to pivot and roll with the changes? It was frustrating as hell, and I’ve reflected a lot on it in the last few days. What seems to be different here was that:

  • A) I was emotionally invested - I genuinely care(d) about the decision being made and the outcomes that I felt were on the line
  • B) I’d sunk a lot of time and energy into this course of action, and was determined “not to let it go to waste”
  • C) I didn’t make the call, and I felt a sense of helplessness (and a touch of hopelessness) about where we would now be headed

Both A) and B) speak to something primal - something that’s inbuilt in all humans. Behavioural Economics calls it sunk cost fallacy or sunk cost bias, where individuals tend to invest MORE energy and effort to prevent a change in the course of action, in the hope of avoiding a perceived waste of previous effort or energy. Ironically, this often results in a far greater waste of energy and effort (!!!).

We see this manifest itself in our day to day lives all the time. In business, it can be seen where businesses spend even more money on a project that’s failing, instead of stopping, rethinking and trying a different approach. In our personal lives, we might see this in friends investing time and effort into their relationships that are toxic and broken because “they’ve invested too much already to leave”.  

This sunk cost bias was alive and kicking and screaming at me to not allow this change in decision to happen. It was causing me to overweight one side of the decision when compared with the other. My perspective over everyone else’s.

Now this isn’t to say that the change of decision was a good one or a bad one - far from it. I’m not yet ready to make a judgement on the quality, necessity or validity in the change of decision.  At this point, all this goes to show is that my reaction to the change of decision had an awful lot to do with me, and a whole lot less to do about the rationale behind the change in decision itself. Oops.

If you are decision-maker, and you are about to change your mind, then you might find this handy:

Adjusting your position is great when:

  • When new information has been presented that materially changes things
  • When the environment around you has changed significantly
  • You are acknowledging that you may have made the incorrect decision the first time, and own it
  • When mental health is at stake or you are prioritising safety and wellbeing

Adjusting your position is bad when:

  • When no new information has been presented
  • The rationale for your original decision remains true
  • You are changing your mind following pressure from others

The change in decision that I was on the receiving end of was as a result of all four of the things on the list on the left. It was a textbook reason to make a change. In the moment, I had labelled it as re-litigation, when in reality I was the one who was overly emotionally invested, and this was actually a solid adaptation to how the world was changing around us.

There’s clearly a correlation between the amount of energy you invest towards a course of action and your reaction to a change in decision about that course of action. I don’t think anyone would challenge that, or be able to distance themselves from the initial feeling that happens in the moment, but there are things you can do to mitigate for your emotions. If you are the recipient of a change in decision, consider this:


  • Seek to understand what new information has been presented
  • Seek to understand what’s changed
  • Seek to understand where the risk is
  • Act with compassion to those around you - especially the one who is making the change of decision, and others who may also be impacted


  • Make it all about you
  • Kick up a stink
  • Throw your toys
  • Be a dick

Pretty simple really.  Learning comes from curiosity. Seek first to fully understand.

Now, I’m off to deal with that change in decision…..

Photo by Mladen Milicevic on Unsplash

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August 11, 2021
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