Think Again by Adam Grant

Adam Grant is one of my favorite authors, writers, thinkers, and podcasters. It’s probably not right to call him a wunderkind or something along those lines, but he has this astonishing ability to crank out research, blog posts, New York Times articles, and social media posts at a ridiculously fast rate, so I tend to gobble up basically everything he puts into the public sphere. His current book, Think Again, challenges the reader to leave the echo chamber of social media, embrace the joy of being wrong, admit that there is a multitude of layered context, nuance, and complexity in the vast majority of difficult conversations, and there is a great power and benefit in knowing what we don’t know. I’d like to think I’ve spent a good deal of time this past year re-learning and re-thinking all of the things I thought I knew — and I’d also like to believe that a lot of other people did the same — but the work is truly never done. There is still so much mis-information online, so many people that are unwilling to change or evolve their viewpoints, and so many others that simply dig in their heels when their thoughts or ideas are challenged that Grant — and other thinkers like him — certainly have their work cut out. I think that Grant is an optimist here, but I must imagine that even he gets frustrated at the closed-mindedness of our present society. However, this book — and all of Grant’s books, to be honest — can and should be used as a tool and a guide to have better and more productive discourses with others, and I’m going to keep the below notes handy to remind myself that it’s ok to admit that there is a whole lot I still have to un-learn in the years to come.

  • we need to work on our ability to rethink and relearn
  • on tests, students who rethink their answers rather than staying anchored to them end up improving their scores — just the consideration of whether you should change it matters
  • we often prefer the ease of hanging on to old views over the difficulty of grappling with new ones
  • when it comes to our knowledge and opinions, we tend to stick to our guns — seizing and freezing
  • we listen to views that make us feel good, instead of ideas that make us think hard
  • frog is actually better off in the slow boiling pot; it will leap out as soon as the water starts to get uncomfortably warm
  • in 2011, we consumed about 5X as much information per day as you would have just a quarter century earlier
  • as we sit with our beliefs, they tend to become more extreme and more entrenched
  • we often favor feeling right over being right
  • preacher: when our sacred beliefs are in jeopardy
  • prosecutor: when recognize flaws in other people’s reasoning
  • politician: when we’re seeking to win an audience
  • rethinking is fundamental to science — we move into scientist mode when we’re searching for the truth; we run experiments to test hypotheses and discover knowledge
  • mental horsepower doesn’t guarantee mental dexterity
  • higher on IQ test, more likely you are to fall for stereotypes, because you’re faster at recognizing patterns
  • if the empirical pattern clashes with your ideology, math prowess is no longer an asset; it actually becomes a liability
  • confirmation bias — seeing what we expect to see
  • desirability bias — seeing what we want to see
  • need to be actively open-minded — searching for reasons why we might be wrong
  • the purpose of learning isn’t to affirm our beliefs, but to evolve our beliefs
  • cognitive flexibility — willingness to move from one extreme to the other as the occasion requires
  • what set great presidents apart was their intellectual curiosity and openness
  • intellectual humility — knowing what we don’t know
  • scientific thinking favors humility over pride, doubt over certainty, curiosity over closure
  • visions for change are more compelling when they include visions of continuity
  • Anton’s syndrome: deficit of self awareness in which a person is oblivious to a physical disability but otherwise doing fairly well cognitively
  • women typically underestimate their leadership skills, men typically overestimate theirs
  • imposter syndrome — competence exceeds confidence
  • Dunning-Kruger effect: when we lack competence that we’re most likely to be brimming with overconfidence
  • less intelligent we are in a particular domain, the more we seem to overestimate our actual intelligence in the domain — less interested in learning and updating
  • as we gain experience, we lose some of our humility
  • humility — recognizing that we are flawed and fallible
  • confidence is a measure of how much you believe in yourself
  • we want confident humility: having faith in our capability while appreciating that we may not have the right solution or even be addressing the right problem
  • most effective leaders score high in both confidence and humility — keenly aware of weaknesses
  • chronic sense of being unworthy can breed misery, crush motivation, and hold us back from pursuing our ambitions
  • feeling like an imposter can motivate us to work harder — men will collaborate more; women, however, more likely to be debilitated by doubts
  • imposter thoughts can also motivate us to work smarter — make us better leaders
  • knowledge is best sought from experts, but creativity and humility can come from anywhere
  • great thinkers marvel at how much they don’t understand — mark of a lifelong learner is recognizing that they can learn something from everyone they meet
  • when ideas survive, they are usually interesting — challenges weakly held opinions
  • when our core beliefs are challenged, it triggers the amygdala, activates fight or flight response
  • we choose our views, an we can choose to rethink them any time we want
  • givers have higher rates of failures than takers and matchers, but higher rates of success too
  • detach present from past and detach opinions from your identity
  • work performance = positive impact on others
  • who you are should be a questions of what you value, not what you believe — values are your principles in life
  • single more important driver of forecaster success was how often they updated their beliefs
  • sign of wisdom to avoid believing every thought that enters your mind
  • if you want to be a better forecaster today, helps to let go of your commitment to the opinions you held yesterday
  • more frequently we make fun of ourselves, happier we tend to be
  • scientists and forecasters are comfortable being wrong because they are terrified of being wrong
  • admitting we were wrong doesn’t make us look less competent
  • yes, we are entitled to hold opinions inside our heads :)
  • relationship conflict is personal and emotional; task conflict are clashes about ideas and opinions
  • some task conflict is beneficial as it can lead to higher creativity and smarter choices
  • how often parents argue has no bearing on child’s academic, social or emotional development — what matters is how respectfully they argue, not how frequently
  • rethinking depends on a challenge network — group of people we trust to point out blind spots and help us overcome our weaknesses
  • disagreeable — fearless about questioning the way things have always been done and holding us accountable for thinking again
  • too many leaders shield themselves from task conflict
  • we learn more from people who challenge our thought process than those who affirm our conclusions
  • disagreeable givers often make the best critics — talent is to evaluate the work, not feed their egos
  • agreeableness is about social harmony, not cognitive consensus
  • task conflict can, however, spill into relationship conflict
  • frame disputes as debates — receptive to considering dissenting opinions and changing your mind, motivates the other person to share information with you
  • more likely to have a good fight if we argue about how
  • our adversary is not a foil, but a propeller
  • a good debate is like a dance that hasn’t been choreographed, negotiated with a partner who has a different set of steps in mind
  • best debaters present fewer reasons to support their case for fear of putting out a non-compelling argument
  • avoid defend/attack — ask questions
  • emphasizing common ground — establishing that we have the right motives
  • consider the strongest version of your opponents case so you can relate to his perspective, and to the audiences
  • if you have too many arguments, you’ll dilute the power of each and every one
  • if they’re resistant to rethinking, more reasons simply give them more ammunition to shoot our views down
  • the person most likely to persuade you to change your mind is YOU
  • just need to open their minds to the possibility that they might be wrong (in a debate) — not necessarily change their minds
  • freedom, mastery, belonging, impact (at work) — appreciation by compensation
  • what evidence would change your mind? (ask the question)
  • curiosity, interest, tranquility is a sign of strength
  • communicating an pinion with some uncertainty signals confident humility, invites curiosity, and leads to a more nuanced discussion
  • we become especially hostile when trying to defend opinions that we know, deep down, are false
  • group polarization — reinforced by conformity, peripheral members fit in and gain status by following the lead of the most prototypical member of the group, who often holds the most intense views
  • overview effect — when astronauts come back from space, focused on collective good
  • helping others consider what they would believe in an alternate reality
  • counterfactual thinking — imaging how the circumstances of our lives could have unfolded differently
  • people gain humility when they reflect on how different circumstances could have led them to different beliefs
  • cultural truisms: widely shared, but rarely questioned
  • interacting with members of another group reduced prejudice in 94 percent of cases (intergroup contact)
  • those with greater power need to do more rethinking based on their privilege, more likely to have their perspectives unquestioned over time
  • what doesn’t sway us can make our beliefs stronger
  • motivational interviewing: we’re better off helping them find their own motivation to change
  • starts with humility and curiosity
  • help them break out of overconfidence cycles and see new possibilities
  • asking open minded questions, engaging in reflective learning, affirming the person’s desire and ability to change
  • motivational interviewing has a huge success rate
  • “Here are a few things that have helped me — do you think any of them might work for you?”
  • change talk is referencing the desire, ability, need or commitment to make adjustments
  • summarizing a conversation is key
  • objective is not to lead or follow, but to be a guide
  • MI generates more openness in both directions
  • when people detect an attempt at influence, they have sophisticated defense mechanisms
  • listening well — more interest in other peoples interest rather than trying to judge their status or prove our own
  • sympathy rather than solutions
  • empathetic, nonjudgmental, attentive listening can make people less anxious and defensive
  • great listeners are more interested in making their audiences feel smart
  • if you present information without permission, no one will listen to you
  • listening is a way of offering others our scarcest, most precious gift: our attention
  • seeing the opinions of the other side is not enough to change our minds — presenting two extremes of an arguments contributes to the polarization
  • need to complexify — showcase the range of perspectives on any given topic
  • multitude of view to help people realize they too contain multitudes
  • important to distinguish skeptics from deniers
  • complexity of the spectrum of beliefs is missing from such issues as climate change — deniers get the most press, extremes
  • when journalists acknowledge uncertainties around facts on complex issues, doesn’t undermine reader trust
  • collective benefits of climate change = economic and scientific advancement, building a more moral and caring community
  • defending freedom, preserving purity of nature and the planet as patriotism (conservative swing)
  • people will ignore or deny the existence of the problem if they’re not fond of the solution
  • appreciating complexity reminds us that no behavior is always effective and that all cures have unintended consequences
  • perspective taking fails because we are terrible mind readers
  • perspective seeking = actually talking to people to gain insight into the nuances of their views
  • restricted range of emotion stands in the way of rethinking
  • if false scientific beliefs aren’t addressed in elementary school, they become harder to change later
  • interrogate information instead of consuming it, reject rank and popularity as a proxy for reliability, understand that the sender of information is often not the source
  • lectures aren’t designed to accommodate dialogue or disagreement — turns students into passive receivers of information rather than active thinkers
  • perfectionists don’t perform better than their colleagues at work, even if they were straight A students
  • mastered old ways of thinking — building an influential career demands new ways of thinking
  • one of the best ways to learn is to teach
  • one of the hallmarks of an open mind is responding to confusion with curiosity and interest
  • good teachers introduce new thoughts, great teachers introduce new ways of thinking
  • habits we develop as we keep revising our drafts and the skills we build to keep learning
  • rethinking is more likely to happen in a learning culture, where growth is the core value and rethinking cycles are routine
  • psychologically safe teams reported more errors, but actually made fewer errors
  • fostering a climate of trust, openness, respect, suggestions without fear of reprisal
  • “How do you know?”
  • by admitting imperfections out loud, managers demonstrated that they could take it — normalized vulnerability
  • sharing imperfections is risky if we haven’t demonstrated our competence, however
  • focusing on results might be good for short term performance, but it can be it can be an obstacle to long term learning
  • when we have to explain the procedures behind our decisions in real time, we think more critically and process the possibilities more thoroughly
  • escalation of commitment — sunk costs are a factor, but most important causes appear to be psychological rather than economic
  • when it comes to rethinking, grit may have a dark side, as we might pull out of something too late
  • “what do you want to be when you grow up?” — silly question, encourages kids to make work the main event of their identities
  • when they see work as what they do rather than who they are, they become more open to exploring different possibilities
  • more interest in science when it is presented as something we do rather than someone we are
  • schedule a “checkup” on your career
  • successful relationship requires regular rethinking
  • the more people value happiness, the less happy they often become — hard to chase happiness, too busy evaluating, not experiencing, spend too much time striving for peak happiness
  • overemphasize pleasure at the expense of purpose
  • western conceptions of happiness leave us feeling lonely
  • “You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another” — Hemingway
  • happiness depends more on what we do than where we are
  • actions — meaning and belonging
  • careers, relationships, communities = open systems, not closed off from the environment around us
  • in times of crisis and uncertainty, we need leaders who accept uncertainty, acknowledges mistakes, learns from others, rethinks plans
  • Roosevelt: “Try something” — trial and error, confident humility
  • bold, persistent experimentation might be the best tool for rethinking

I love books, I have a ton of them, and I take notes on all of them. I wanted to share all that I have learned and will continue to learn. I hope you enjoy.