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About Adam Grant
Adam Grant is an American psychologist and author who is currently a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, specializing in organizational psychology. He received academic tenure aged 28, making him the youngest tenured professor at the Wharton School. Adam Grant has been Wharton’s top-rated professor for seven straight years. He has been recognized as one of the world’s ten most influential management thinkers and Fortune’s 40 under 40. He is the author of four New York Times bestselling books that have sold over two million copies and been translated into 35 languages. Adam is also the host of WorkLife, a chart-topping TED original podcast. His TED talks on original thinkers and givers and takers have been viewed more than 20 million times.
Think Again explores our failure to change our ideas when we have established them. Based on numerous examples and Grant’s psychological knowledge, this book considers the positive impact of shifting from rethinking to thinking. Adopting this mindset allows you and your team to improve. It also provides you with the opportunity to change other people’s minds without pushing people into binary groups.
Individual rethinking focuses on letting go of the thoughts and ideas that are no longer serving you well. To ready yourself for this, you should anchor yourself in flexibility rather than consistency. Humans tend to have strong convictions about their beliefs and are proud that they stick to them. Grant believes this works in a world that is static and reliable. The issue is that we live in an ever-changing world. So, to excel, we have to focus on rethinking rather than just thinking.
Grant also points out that rethinking is a skill set but can also be described as a mindset. This is because it can often be easier to hold onto old views rather than grappling new ones. We succumb to the comfort of conviction rather than the anxiety of doubt. We listen to ideas that make us feel good rather than ones that make us think hard. A rethinking mindset involves a willingness to accept that the facts can change and what was once true is no longer the case.
Finally, Grant states we will either fall into the role of a preacher, prosecutor or politician when we are thinking. We can get caught up in preaching that we are right, prosecuting others who are wrong and politicking for the support that we avoid rethinking our own views. Instead, we must start thinking like a scientist. Scientists are paid to understand the limits of their knowledge and accept new truths as they arise.
Grant starts this section by offering an example of an international debate champion, Harish Natarajan. In a debate, he was asked to argue the unpopular view that the government should not subsidize preschools. In the beginning, almost all the crowd had their minds already made up that preschools should be subsidized. That said, Natarajan managed to convince the audience by using a few simple techniques, which are:
- Common understanding
- Non-judgmental questions
- Flexible thinking
Grant describes this effective choice as the Collaborative approach. This approach leads with humility and curiosity, leading the audience to think like scientists. The approach that humans often adopt in debates is the Adversarial approach, which relies on the preacher and prosecutor modes. So, to help others rethink their beliefs, Grant recommends avoiding overwhelming rational arguments like a Logic Bully. Even if you are correct, the other party will be left bitter. A more effective approach is finding common ground and expressing curiosity by asking them questions. These questions let the other person draw their own conclusions, which is more powerful than crushing them logically.
Grant provides a specific example of how questions alone can be highly effective. In his example, a Quebecian woman has given birth to a premature child. The mother is anti-vaccinations, but her child would benefit hugely from a measles vaccine. To change her mind, a “vaccine whisperer” was enlisted. This person used motivational interviewing to help reassure the mother and help her rethink. The characteristics of motivational interviewing are:
- Asking open-ended questions
- Engaging in reflective listening
- Affirming the person’s desire and ability to change
“Good teachers introduce new thoughts, but great teachers introduce new ways of thinking.” – Adam Grant
The final section in Think Again focuses on helping groups to rethink. Grant starts this section with another example, this time from Columbia University’s Difficult Conversations Lab. They found that when talking to a group, framing issues as a binary will only lead to polarization. Presenting issues as complex with many viewpoints had a different effect, leading to greater cooperation. Grant builds on this point and states that preaching a point with passion is not an effective way of persuading others. Being able to instead recognize the complexity of an issue will make you far more credible. For example, when talking to conservatives, you shouldn’t be pushing for caps on vehicle emissions to tackle climate change. Instead, frame the idea as the possibility of green-tech innovation. This approach better accounts for the complexity of the issue and your audience.
Collective rethinking is also about changing organizational cultures. A culture of collective rethinking encourages psychological safety. Psychological safety is the ability for team members to take risks without fear of punishment. In these types of teams, employees are more willing to report problems. The team can collectively change their mind based on the information obtained from these mistakes. An organization that respects collective rethinking also has the following characteristics:
- Avoids ‘best practice’ as this assumes the team has arrived at an optimal solution. This type of belief will prevent effective rethinking.
- Don’t get obsessed with results. This obsession might help in the short-term but will impact long-term success. Remember that outcomes are not always the result of good decisions.
- Every team member is willing to ask themselves and others, “How do you know”?
“We live in a rapidly changing world, where we need to spend as much time rethinking as we do thinking.”– Adam Grant
Think Again is an exploration into the importance of adopting a rethinking mindset rather than a thinking skill set. Grant argues that our human tendency to always be consistent with our views is ineffective. The world is always changing and if we are not willing to change too, we will fall behind. So, the best way to adapt to an ever-changing environment is to help others to rethink, your team to rethink and yourself to rethink.
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