• Intelligence is traditionally viewed as the ability to think and learn.
• Yet in a turbulent world, there’s another set of cognitive skills that might matter more: the ability to rethink and unlearn.
• Questioning ourselves makes the world more unpredictable. It requires us to admit that the facts may have changed, that what was once right may now be wrong. • Reconsidering something we believe deeply can threaten our identities, making it feel as if we’re losing a part of ourselves.
• This book is about the value of rethinking. If you can master the art of rethinking, I believe you’ll be better positioned for success at work and happiness in life. Thinking again can help you generate new solutions to old problems and revisit old solutions to new problems.
• We should all be able to make a long list of areas where we’re ignorant. Mine include art, financial markets, fashion, chemistry, food, why British accents turn American in songs, and why it’s impossible to tickle yourself.
• What if we were quicker to make amendments to our own mental constitutions?
• My aim in this book is to explore how rethinking happens.
• We laugh at people who still use Windows 95, yet we still cling to opinions that we formed in 1995.
• Progress is impossible without change; and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything. — George Bernard Shaw
Adam Grant, Think Again
Adam Grant is on a roll.
I present synopses of business books at the First Friday Book Synopsis, in Dallas (these days on Zoom). For March, 2021, I presented my synopsis of Mr. Grant’s newest book, Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, just published in early 2021. This is the third book I have presented by Adam Grant at our monthly event, now in its 24th year. Earlier, I presented Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, and Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.
His premise in this book is simple. You could be wrong. No; make that you are wrong. About important things. And, yes, so am I.
And, if you are wrong – since you are wrong – it is important to find out where you are wrong, as quickly as possible, and fix it. Because, once you fix this one thing that you are wrong about – once you change your thinking, and get closer to being right – then there will be the next thing to discover that you are wrong about. And then the next; and then…
This is a book filled with good stories; i.e., stories that illustrate the challenge. It reveals the disastrous failures to rethink, to think again, that led to the deaths of two complete shuttle crews (The Challenger and The Columbia). He tells the story of the blindness, the failure to think again, of Mike Lazaridis, who created the BlackBerry, and just couid not see that people would ever want to type on a little screen without a keyboard.
And many more stories.
(Have I said you should buy this book and read it? You should).
In my synopses, I begin with “What is the point?” Here is the point for this book:
• There is so much we do not know… And we are all wrong about some things. Our inability or unwillingness to seek out ways we are wrong will keep us wrong. And that is a bad idea. Rethinking – thinking again – is the only path to getting more things right.
And I ask Why is this book worth our time? Here are my three reason for this book:
#1 – This book reminds us that we can be wrong; we can be wrong often; and we can be wrong in many different arenas.
#2 – This book is an eye-opening lesson that being wrong can cost money, relationships, and lives.
#3 – This book is a tutorial on how we can learn to rethink – to think again – in many parts of our lives, in order to defend ourselves and others from our wrong and dangerous views.
I always include a few pages of Quotes and Excerpts from the book – the “best of” Randy’s highlighted passages. Here is a selection of the ones that I included in this synopsis:
• Part of the problem is cognitive laziness. Some psychologists point out that we’re mental misers: we often prefer the ease of hanging on to old views over the difficulty of grappling with new ones.
• A hallmark of wisdom is knowing when it’s time to abandon some of your most treasured tools—and some of the most cherished parts of your identity.
• Most of us take pride in our knowledge and expertise, and in staying true to our beliefs and opinions. That makes sense in a stable world, where we get rewarded for having conviction in our ideas. The problem is that we live in a rapidly changing world, where we need to spend as much time rethinking as we do thinking.
• Unfortunately, when it comes to our own knowledge and opinions, we often favor feeling right over being right.
• If you’re a scientist by trade, rethinking is fundamental to your profession. You’re paid to be constantly aware of the limits of your understanding.
• Being good at thinking can make you worse at rethinking.
• Only one trait consistently predicted presidential greatness after controlling for factors like years in office, wars, and scandals. It wasn’t whether presidents were ambitious or forceful, friendly or Machiavellian; it wasn’t whether they were attractive, witty, poised, or polished. What set great presidents apart was their intellectual curiosity and openness. They read widely and were as eager to learn about developments in biology, philosophy, architecture, and music as in domestic and foreign affairs. …They saw many of their policies as experiments to run, not points to score.
• Scientific thinking favors humility over pride, doubt over certainty, curiosity over closure.
• The more superior participants thought their knowledge was, the more they overestimated themselves—and the less interested they were in learning and updating. …As Dunning quips, “The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.”
• I found a Nobel Prize–winning scientist and two of the world’s top election forecasters. They aren’t just comfortable being wrong; they actually seem to be thrilled by it. …The goal is not to be wrong more often. It’s to recognize that we’re all wrong more often than we’d like to admit, and the more we deny it, the deeper the hole we dig for ourselves.
• As Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio told me, “If you don’t look back at yourself and think, ‘Wow, how stupid I was a year ago,’ then you must not have learned much in the last year.”
How many of us can even remember the last time we admitted being wrong and revised our opinions accordingly?
• “There’s no benefit to me for being wrong for longer.” If being wrong repeatedly leads us to the right answer, the experience of being wrong itself can become joyful.
I always emphasize key points and principles from the books I present. Here are a few from this book:
- Preachers, Prosecutors, and Politicians
- We go into preacher mode when our sacred beliefs are in jeopardy: we deliver sermons to protect and promote our ideals. We enter prosecutor mode when we recognize flaws in other people’s reasoning: we marshal arguments to prove them wrong and win our case. We shift into politician mode when we’re seeking to win over an audience: we campaign and lobby for the approval of our constituents. The risk is that we become so wrapped up in preaching that we’re right, prosecuting others who are wrong, and politicking for support that we don’t bother to rethink our own views.
- What’s surprising about these results is that we typically celebrate great entrepreneurs and leaders for being strong-minded and clear-sighted. They’re supposed to be paragons of conviction: decisive and certain. …the best strategists are actually slow and unsure.
- Some things to learn:
- Rethinking is a skill set, but it’s also a mindset.
- We need to develop the habit of forming our own second opinions.
- If you lack the motivation to change your mind, you’ll miss many occasions to think again.
- Think like a scientist…when a scientist is actually in scientist mode:
- Thinking like a scientist involves more than just reacting with an open mind. It means being actively open-minded. It requires searching for reasons why we might be wrong—not for reasons why we must be right — and revising our views based on what we learn.
- It starts with intellectual humility — knowing what we don’t know.
- If knowledge is power, knowing what we don’t know is wisdom.
- Our convictions can lock us in prisons of our own making.
- The solution is not to decelerate our thinking—it’s to accelerate our rethinking.
- We all have blind spots in our knowledge and opinions
- The bad news is that they can leave us blind to our blindness, which gives us false confidence in our judgment and prevents us from rethinking.
- When a core belief is questioned, though, we tend to shut down rather than open up.
- The technical term for this in psychology is the totalitarian ego, and its job is to keep out threatening information.
- (The second kind of) detachment is separating your opinions from your identity.
- You/we all have a responsibility!
- I’d like to modify that: yes, we’re entitled to hold opinions inside our own heads. If we choose to express them out loud, though, I think it’s our responsibility to ground them in logic and facts, share our reasoning with others, and change our minds when better evidence emerges.
- Beware of HIPPO — the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion.
- Starting a disagreement by asking, “Can we debate?” sends a message that you want to think like a scientist.
- Pay attention to the Dunning-Kruger effect:
- On average, they believed they did better than 62 percent of their peers, but in reality outperformed only 12 percent of them.
- The less intelligent we are in a particular domain, the more we seem to overestimate our actual intelligence in that domain.
- How to “win’ an argument; thoughts on persuasion…
- Most people think of arguments as being like a pair of scales: the more reasons we can pile up on our side, the more it will tip the balance in our favor. Yet the experts did the exact opposite: They actually presented fewer reasons to support their case.
- Thus: fewer points; all strong – no weak points at all! — “A weak argument generally dilutes a strong one.”
- Practice Listening – and practice Motivational Interviewing
- the story of the “Vaccine Whisperer”
- All persuasion is self-persuasion — “I didn’t convert anybody,” he says. “I gave them reason to think about their direction in life, and they thought about it, and thought, ‘I need a better path, and this is the way to go.’”
- Throw in a little complexity — A dose of complexity can disrupt overconfidence cycles and spur rethinking cycles. It gives us more humility about our knowledge and more doubts about our opinions, and it can make us curious enough to discover information we were lacking.
- Isn’t this interesting – the imposter syndrome might keep you humble, which might help…
- Investment professionals: the more often they felt like impostors, the higher their performance reviews from their supervisors four months later. When our impostor fears crop up, the usual advice is to ignore them—give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. …The first upside of feeling like an impostor is that it can motivate us to work harder.
- And here are my six lessons and takeaways:
#1 – Aim for more self-awareness.
#2 – Aim for more humility.
#3 – Seek to discover your own blindness – your own blind spots.
#4 – Stop and think; and then, often, stop and rethink.
#5 — Ask, always, what am I doing to keep learning.
#6 – And, because things are speeding up and the world is changing more rapidly than ever before, we all must learn to rethink and learn (and unlearn) faster than ever.
Think Again is not just a good book, though it is indeed a good book. It is a needed book. It is an essential book. Especially now, in this VUCA world that we all share (Volatility; Uncertainty; Complexity; Ambiguity). Things are changing ever more rapidly. We have to change as rapidly. We have to learn how to unlearn, how to re-think, and how to think again.
Thinking again: consider this a new survival skill for the age we live in.
Note: The book includes an afterword called “Actions for Impact.” Here are the major categories of actions (In bold; note, I can’t get the numbering the way I want it. My apology. I need to relearn how to use WordPress), with a few of the 30 actions that he recommends:
- INDIVIDUAL RETHINKING
- Develop the Habit of Thinking Again
- Seek out information that goes against your views.
- Calibrate Your Confidence
- Embrace the joy of being wrong.
- Invite Others to Question Your Thinking
- Learn something new from each person you meet.
- INTERPERSONAL RETHINKING
- Ask Better Questions
- Practice the art of persuasive listening.
- Approach Disagreements as Dances, Not Battles
- Have a conversation about the conversation.
III. COLLECTIVE RETHINKING
- Have More Nuanced Conversations
- Don’t shy away from caveats and contingencies.
- Teach Kids to Think Again
- Have a weekly myth-busting discussion at dinner.
- Stop asking kids what they want to be when they grow up.
- Create Learning Organizations
- Abandon best practices.
- Keep a rethinking scorecard.
- Stay Open to Rethinking Your Future
- Make time to think again.
You can purchase my synopses. Each comes with the pdf of my comprehensive, multi-page handout, and the audio recording of my presentation.
I have many synopses available Click on the buy synopses tab at the top of this web page to search by title. And click here for our newest additions. (My synopsis for Think Again will be available soon).