In a nutshell
We live in a rapidly changing world which celebrates certainty, and too-often mistakes confidence for competence. Adam Grant offers bold ideas and rigorous evidence to show how we can embrace the joy of being wrong. By exploring examples of how we let our ideas turn into our identities, Think Again encourages us to think again about our beliefs, motivations and decisions. The ultimate goal of this effort is to lead us to develop confident humility and to let go of stale ideas and to prize mental flexibility and curiosity over foolish consistency.
Updating our own views
Intelligence is traditionally viewed as the ability to learn things. Adam Grant suggests that there’s another set of cognitive skills that might matter more: the ability to rethink and unlearn.
Rethinking is a skill set and also a mindset. When it comes to our own knowledge and opinions, we often favour feeling right over being right. The smarter you are, the more you might struggle to update your beliefs and often fail at analysing patterns that contradict your views. Since the pursuit of learning is to evolve our beliefs, not affirm our beliefs, we should all strive to adopt scientific thinking in our everyday life. Scientific thinking favours humility over pride, doubt over certainty and curiosity over closure.
Having humility does not equal having low self-confidence. Humility means being grounded and recognising that we’re flawed and fallible. What we want to attain is confident humility – having faith in our capability whilst appreciating that we may not have the right solution or even be addressing the right problem.
Opening other people’s minds
Often times when we try to persuade people to adopt our opinion, we frequently take an adversarial approach and instead of opening their minds, we effectively shut them down. To be an expert negotiator, we need to map out steps we might be able to take with the other side, devoting time to finding common ground, and express curiosity about other person’s stance.
If the other person expresses prejudice which we’re aiming to decrease, or if we we’re keen to dismantle our own stereotypes, Adam Grant suggest an exercise in contrafactual thinking. It involves imagining how the circumstances of our lives could have unfolded differently and invites us to explore the origins of our beliefs. Another way of persuading someone to change their view is through motivational interviewing, an act of listening to others to find out what could motivate them to change. The goal of motivational interviewing is to guide others to self-discovery by helping them break out of overconfidence cycles.
Creating communities of lifelong learners
Great educators foster rethinking cycles by instilling intellectual humility, disseminating doubt and cultivating curiosity. Achieving excellence in school often requires mastering old ways of thinking, but building an influential career demands new ways of thinking. Learning is certainly more than the information we accumulate. It’s the habits we develop as we keep revising our drafts and the skills we build to keep educating ourselves.
In performance cultures, we can often censor ourselves in the presence of experts who seem to know all the answers, especially if we lack the confidence in our own expertise. In those type of cultures, people are accountable for outcomes and are more likely to continue with ill-fated courses of action in attempts to meet those outcomes. Exclusively praising and rewarding results breeds overconfidence in poor strategies. Whilst people often get attached to best practices in performance cultures, organisational learning should be an ongoing activity. Along with outcome accountability, we can create process accountability by evaluating how carefully different options are considered as people make decisions. The goal in learning cultures is to welcome experiment, to make rethinking so familiar that it becomes routine – and that can only happen under a high level of psychological safety. Psychological safety is not a matter of relaxing standards, making people comfortable, being nice. It’s about fostering a climate of respect, trust and openness in which people can raise concerns and suggestions without fear of reprisal. It is the foundation of a learning culture.
Three things to take away
Embodying confident humility can help us foster the habit of actively rethinking what we know, what we believe and what motivates us.
Counterfactual thinking and listening to what motivates others builds empathy and breaks overconfidence cycles.
Learning cultures are built on the feeling of safety amongst group members. This stems from establishing process accountability (how carefully different ways of working have been considered) as well as outcome accountability.
Who should read this book?
This is a great book for both individuals and organisations. Grant shares hundreds of examples of rethinking throughout the book which will be useful for anyone who wants to continue developing themselves and their problem solving skills. By weaving together complex research and compelling storytelling, Think Again is essential reading for teams who want to create stronger and a more efficient learning and experimentation culture.
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Adam Grant, WH Allen, 2021