Author: Adam Grant
APA Style Citation
Grant, A. (2021). Think again: The power of knowing what you don’t know. Viking, Penguin Random House; New York, New York.
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Adam Grant a psychologist at the Wharton School argues that being wrong can lead to growth and development, perhaps even more than being right. Grant uses research and real-life examples to demonstrate the significant challenges of unlearning what we think we know and then relearning and refining that knowledge. He compares the overconfidence cycle, which consists of pride, conviction, confirmation and desirability biases and validation to the rethinking cycle, which consists of humility, doubt, curiosity and discovery. The author contends that the rethinking cycle is consistent with scientific research and will result in growth and new learning, while the overconfidence cycle will likely result in stunted learning and limitation on being able to incorporate new information into our knowledge base. While change can be difficult, those who insist that new ideas never work are likely to remain caught in a cycle in which change prevents learning. This can relate to cognitive or physical tasks. An Olympic swimmer who has learned a stroke incorrectly will have to work harder to unlearn the ineffective stroke and then learn the correct technique if they want to continue to improve.
Confirmation bias is a powerful force that pushes us to look for information that reaffirms what we think we know. Grant proposes that many of us are stranded on Mt. Stupid, because we think we know more than we do. The more we know, the more we realize we do not know, and this itself can be a growth experience. Grant titles a chapter, The Joy of Being Wrong, and describes how participants who scored highest on Henry Murray’s early IQ tests actually enjoyed the process of finding out that their previously held beliefs were incorrect.
Changing an individual’s thinking is challenging enough but changing a groups thinking can be even more challenging. Often in the highest performing groups there is much task conflict (in which people disagree about ideas and opinions) but lower relationship conflict than in lower performing groups. Grant uses the example of the Wright brothers, who often fought about the design of a plane that would work, but were open to one another’s new ideas. Grant calls the absence of conflict apathy and finds that this happens most often because it is the path of least resistance.
If we want to change someone’s mind to have them come around to our way of thinking, we must also be open to changing our own minds. This can start to occur by having genuine curiosity and asking questions. For those who remain resistant, Grant proposes by asking the person who is hesitant to change, “What evidence would change your mind?”, if the answer is “nothing” then there is no point in continuing to debate the person because they have closed themselves to any new learning. This can be seen in individuals who refuse to acknowledge the science behind the benefits of vaccines. Some of these individuals lost their lives because of their insistence on clinging to erroneous beliefs.
Previous held beliefs about people and the groups to which they belong can create an in-group and out-group bias often seen in sporting rivalries. Fans often make assumptions about the personal characteristics of the opposing team, which Grant claims are ridiculous because the members and managers/coaches of the team change. He argues that you are rooting for the clothes because if your favorite players switch teams, they immediately become the enemy. To overcome the stereotype, we must question the stereotype and then circle back to question our original beliefs.
Grant touts the benefits of becoming a great listener. This skill is a show of respect and care for the speaker and allows people the time to reflect on their own views. Grant explains how rethinking can be introduced in educational settings and argues that good teachers introduce new thoughts but great teachers introduce new ways of thinking. He describes the process of creating multiple drafts of a paper, drawing, or other piece of work based on feedback from peers. The student then looks at the changing progress overtime to see the change and improvement of the final product. Creating an environment in which errors are celebrated as learning opportunities creates the opportunity to try new things, even if they are initially loaded with mistakes. This also helps create an atmosphere of collaboration and respect. Constructive criticism must be viewed as helpful momentum to move forward and learn more. Grant suggests creating a challenge network of trusted colleagues who provide honest feedback in an effort to improve a product.
Other Related Resources
Rotman School of Management: Interview with Adam Grant
Quillette: Six Great Ideas from Adam Grant’s Think Again
Blinklist: Key Insights from Think Again
Psychological Concepts and Figures