Successful people are good at flexible thinking. They are able to alter perspectives, consider alternative points of view and change their minds when the data is no longer supporting their ideas.
However, being flexible in thinking doesn't necessarily mean you're always changing your mind. It means you're open to changing your mind, to considering alternatives, weighing up options and then choosing the best way forward. A person who changes their mind all the time just because they've thought of something different, without evaluation, can be seen as wishy-washy or indecisive.
Often the effort to see alternatives will help to generate a better solution. But many people find this effort difficult. We assume that we naturally come up with the best option - or at least a very good one. What we typically fail to recognise is that our mind works in patterns and it usually takes a deliberate effort to escape these patterns.
Our brains are very good at recognising and using patterns. By using patterns in our every day life decisions, become easier and we can switch a large part of our working cognitive capacity to other more important issues. For example, most of us don't have to consider the route we drive to work each day. It's become automatic, and in doing so frees up our mind to think of other things on the way to work.
Our minds also form other, less obvious patterns. Patterns that are formed by the way we usually approach problems, by the usual obstacles, predictions and assumptions we make about the things we encounter every day. Usually these patterns and assumptions make life simpler, but at the same time as they simplify our lives, they are also narrowing our perspectives and limiting what we allow into our conscious consideration.
For example, you may have heard the phrase "If the only tool you have is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail". In many ways this describes a person who is poor at thinking flexibly. Our experience will tend to push us, unconsciously, towards looking at a problem in a particular way. This is one reason diverse teams are a good idea when problem solving. Each person comes to the problem with a different perspective and gives the team a different way of looking at things.
The ability to think flexibly, to see things from different points of view, to consider options, is a skill that can be learnt. There are many great resources available that teach tools and strategies to improve flexibility of thinking. Some of my favourites are the ones developed by Edward de Bono, but there are many more. Perhaps readers would like to suggest some of their own below?
This short video gives a humorous example of how one person was able to see a different perspective...