Traditionally, intelligence is seen as the ability to think and to learn. However, in the complex and chaotic world in which we live and work, to be truly intelligent, we need to develop yet another cognitive skill: the ability to unlearn. To rethink means to take a different approach to any given problem, and if it is true that intelligent people are able to deal with complex problems, it is even more true that their capacity to innovate their own “intelligence” can enhance their ability to find more workable solutions.
Rethinking isn’t easy because we are deeply bound by cognitive biases, such as the “first instinct fallacy”, which leads us to think that the first answer we come up with is the right one. Psychologists have observed what happens when a student finishes a multiple choice test, and has time to re-read his answers and make any necessary corrections before handing it in. In most cases, students are not willing to change their answers, because they are afraid to change them from right to wrong, but an experiment carried out on 1500 students from the University of Illinois, showed that only a quarter of the answers that were changed were wrong, while three quarters of them were right.
So, rethinking and correcting rarely leads to us being wrong: the problem is that not only do humans tend not to like changing their minds, they are not “programmed” to rethink, so it does not come naturally. Once something is done, it’s done. This mindset is linked to a mental laziness fuelled by our need for stability. When it comes to our knowledge and opinions, we prefer the comfort of conviction to the discomfort of doubt, and, even though it doesn’t seem wise to still be using Windows 95, we still hold onto the same opinions we formed in 1995! There are many areas in which rethinking and changing is accepted – for example with everything connected to the fashion world – but in general we tend to listen more eagerly to opinions that make us feel good, instead of accepting ideas that make us have to re-think.