I remember back in the 2004 presidential campaign, and the words “flip flop” being used critically against John Kerry on a change of position across several key political issues. A shallow carefree 20-something, the word association seemed to always conjure a Hawaiian-shirt-clad John Kerry in sandals in my mind. Flip-flops were for the beach! Over time, I learned the truth, that “flip-flopping” was a pejorative label meant to assault the character over another showing lack of grounding or confidence. Possibly bending to the whim of whatever audience is present. So it stuck. “Flip-flopping is bad. Better to form decisive opinions early and defend them with confidence.”
As I grew personally and professionally, I came to learn how pathetic such a mindset can be. In my field, Data Science, those who fail to acknowledge new information and potentially re-evaluate previous hypotheses will never get past the first rung of the ladder. Each word in “data science” is equally important: Data – the completeness and organization of information, and Science – the work of continually learning and questioning. In his book Think Again, author Adam Grant describes a scientists as those “who dare to disagree with our own arguments” and that the profession requires “searching for reasons why we might be wrong.” It is a quest to continually seek truth and explain reality. But for some, it is a difficult path to follow.
What, then, stands in the way. Maybe, pride? Acknowledging that maybe, just maybe I didn’t have all the information at the beginning or that my initial judgement may have been a little emotionally biased could make me appear weak. So, I’ll convince myself that I was right, and stick to the story. Propping up anecdotal evidence and garnering support.
Does this sound like what our country and our world needs right now? People who are too proud to admit they were wrong? Time allows many great things to occur: 1) It allows new data to present itself 2) It allows us to rethink the problem when our emotions and distractions are under control. Flip-flopping, in my mind, should therefore not be discouraged but embraced. To me, someone who changes their position is someone who can demonstrate keeping an open mind and who is able to make decisions based on logic, new data, and relevance. And so ironically, I have flip-flopped on my understanding of the term flip-flop. “Flip-flopping is good. Better to keep an open mind. To listen. To question. To embrace humility. To grow.“
This summer, as you put on your sandals, take a moment and think. Will you be a flip-flopper too?