The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know
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Have you ever been so confident in your beliefs that you weren’t open to considering other possibilities? If so, you’re not alone. It’s human nature to cling to our beliefs, but doing so can lead us to miss out on new ideas and opportunities for growth.
Think Again explores the importance of rethinking our beliefs and opinions. The book delves into the territory of cognitive errors, biases, prejudices, and mental blind spots. It explores our failure to change our ideas once we have established them. No matter the knowledge and experience individuals possess, they can’t avoid logical errors in their thinking process. These include unfounded opinions, external influences, assumptions, and other subjective perceptions. Our natural tendency to rely on these distracting cognitive resources leads us to poor decision-making, inflexibility, inability to hear others and be heard as well as closed-minded attitudes.
Through Grant’s knowledge of psychology and unpacking of many examples, he proposes a fresh approach to improving our thinking. His approach relies on doubting what we know. Simultaneously, it nudges people into developing an interest in learning new things and seeing others’ perspectives. Grant calls this approach “rethinking”. Adopting this mindset empowers you and your team to improve. It also provides you with the opportunity to change other people’s minds without dividing them into binary groups.
Get to know how rethinking works from our Think Again summary.
“Adam Grant believes that keeping an open mind is a teachable skill. And no one could teach this hugely valuable skill better than he does in this wonderful read. The striking insights of this brilliant book are guaranteed to make you rethink your opinions and your most important decisions.”— Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner in economics and #1 New York Times bestselling author of Thinking, Fast and Slow
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About Adam Grant
Adam Grant is an American psychologist, author, and professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He received academic tenure at age 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 featured among Fortune’s 40 under 40.
Grant is the author of four New York Times bestselling books, including Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, and Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. They have been translated into 35 languages. Adam is also the host of WorkLife, a chart-topping TED original podcast. His TED talks on original thinkers, givers, and takers have gained over 20 million views.
StoryShot #1: Adapt and Thrive with Cognitive Flexibility
Grant starts his book with a story that took place in 1949. A team of smoke jumpers was combating a massive wildfire. Most team members kept their equipment as instructed, even though it slowed them down. Only one person disobeyed instructions. Thanks to his ability to react on the fly, he found a different solution. Eventually, it helped him to survive.
Using this story, Grant contrasts a conventional approach to the perception of intelligence with an alternative one. We are accustomed to deeming intelligence as a skill for thinking and getting to know about new things. However, we should look at it as an ability to rethink and forget what we have learned before. Cognitive flexibility is the art of ignoring our instincts, even though we trust our gut feelings. Rethinking and questioning ourselves helps us stay relevant in a world that knows no stability.
Grant rightly notes that even constitutions accept amendments, so why should we deny amendments in our thinking process? If a thought or an idea no longer serves us well, the best response is to let it go. That is what rethinking is about.
To get ready for rethinking, anchor yourself in flexibility rather than consistency. Humans have strong convictions and are proud that they stick to them. This works in a world that is static and reliable. The issue is that we live in an ever-changing environment. So to excel, we have to focus on rethinking rather than just thinking.
Rethinking is a skill set, but can also be described as a mindset. People have a tendency to hold on to old views rather than accepting new ones. We succumb to the comfort of conviction over the anxiety of doubt. We listen to ideas that make us feel good instead of those that make us think hard. A rethinking mindset involves a willingness to accept the reality that facts can change and what was once true is no longer the case.
StoryShot # 2: Rise Above Preacher, Prosecutor, and Politician Roles
Grant uses the mindset system offered by Phil Tedlock to describe our inclinations when we converse with others or have an internal dialog. Every time we think or talk, we fall into the role of one of these characters: a preacher, prosecutor, or politician.
Preachers are only interested in pushing their own ideas. They impose their beliefs on others to protect or popularize them.
Prosecutors are eager to win every argument. They will relentlessly lash out at anyone whose opinions don’t align with their own.
Politicians, in contrast, want to be people pleasers. They long for approval, but don’t see the point in finding objective truth.
When you take on any of these roles, you deny the importance of finding the truth through engaging with others. What you are really interested in is attacking dissenting views, defending your opinion, making peace, or simply winning an argument.
There is one more role that may help us realize our cognitive potential. Scientists live to comprehend the limits of their knowledge, and we can learn from them to improve our thinking process. Being a scientist means conducting experiments, testing hypotheses, abandoning old beliefs, and embracing new truths. Having a change of heart and reconsidering isn’t a weakness. It validates your intellectual development.
StoryShot #3: Find the Sweet Spot of Confidence
It is impossible to avoid blind spots, or cognitive bias in our own beliefs or knowledge, even while recognizing them in others. These blind spots may affect our ability to rethink and give us overconfidence in our judgment. However, it is possible to develop confidence that allows us to see flaws in our thinking process. This right type of confidence lets us keep our beliefs up-to-date. Along with that, it helps us to acknowledge our blind spots and adjust our mindset appropriately.
Neither overconfidence nor the lack of confidence is good. Overconfidence is a trait typical of people with Armchair Quarterback Syndrome. They believe they know more than they do. The opposite is the Imposter Syndrome, found in people who, despite having the competence and skills to succeed, doubt themselves anyway. They feel they are taking somebody else’s place, and this inhibits their success.
Grant also gives the example of a survey that asked respondents to rate their knowledge compared to other people. They were also prompted to take a test that assessed their actual level of knowledge. The survey showed that people who considered their knowledge better than that of others significantly overestimated themselves. The result of their overconfidence is a failure to learn new things and change their views. In the end, that leads to ignorance and arrogance.
Overconfidence doesn’t let us see our flaws. We should teach ourselves to be modest, but in a self-assured way. Not only does confident modesty allow us to recognize our flaws, but it also enables us to work at overcoming them.
StoryShot #4: Experience the Joy of Being Wrong
People hate being wrong. When someone shows errors in our beliefs or ways of thinking, many of us will react in anger. We can easily see when someone else is wrong, but we don’t want to admit that we are not always right. We fearlessly defend what we believe in. Psychology calls our unwillingness to change our views “totalitarian ego.”
Over time, we develop such a strong attachment to our beliefs that we don’t want to let them go. Adam Grant distinguishes between two types of harmful attachments.
Detach Your Present from Your Past
The first one describes our affection for the past. We should learn to detach our present selves from the older versions. If we do so, we can avoid depression. We will be able to clearly see the direction we are moving in, and this will bring us more joy.
Separate Your Opinions from Your Identity
Along with this renewal in time, we should separate our identity from our beliefs. Otherwise, when we experience a major change in our worldview, our identity is going to shatter simply because we find out we were wrong. We have to develop a system of values instead. This will allow us to change our beliefs while staying true to our values. Here, being wrong won’t cause an identity crisis.
Values are your core principles in life. By identifying with these principles, you remain open to new ways of achieving them.
You want a doctor whose identity is protecting health, a teacher whose identity is fostering learning, and a police chief who upholds safety and justice. Because when people define themselves by values instead of opinions, they can revise their practices with new evidence.
StoryShot #5: Embrace Constructive Conflicts for Creative Solutions
Since we can’t avoid conflicts, we need to learn how to manage them. Grant explains two types of conflicts:
- Task conflicts. They occur when members of a specific team decide who should tackle a problem, what should be done and how, etc. This type of conflict is constructive because it prompts the seeking of creative solutions.
- Relationship conflicts. These occur between people. Often, these conflicts are detrimental because they affect interpersonal relationships negatively. However, if the parties to an argument show respect for one another, they may end up with a higher degree of compassion and cooperation.
Our society regards pliability, or a tendency to avoid conflicts, as a positive trait. Adam Grant disagrees with this perception. He believes that people who are not afraid to show disagreement with our opinions push us forward. They help us evaluate our abilities and find ways of improvement.
StoryShot #6: Foster Understanding Through the Collaborative Approach
Grant introduces Harish Natarajan, an international debate champion, as an example. In a debate, he argued 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 convinced the audience by using these simple techniques:
- Common understanding
- Non-judgmental questions
- Flexible thinking
Grant describes this effective strategy as the Collaborative approach. It uses humility and curiosity to lead the audience to think like scientists. Still, people often adopt the Adversarial approach in debates, which relies on the preacher and prosecutor modes of communication.
To help others rethink their beliefs, avoid overwhelming rational arguments like a Logic Bully would use. Even if you are correct, the other party will feel bitter. A more effective approach is finding common ground and expressing curiosity by asking questions. These questions let the other person draw their own conclusions, and this is more powerful than crushing them with logic or reason.
We rate Think Again 4.2/5.
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