Think Again - by Adam Grant
Even though I am a scientist by training, I do not do enough rethinking. It’s amazing that Professor Grant spends less than one sixth of the class time on lecturing; the remainder is for role-playing, debating and problem-solving together. Students can learn better from his way of teaching, since active learning is way more effective than just listening to lectures. He offers good advice: “Doubt what you know, be curious about what you don’t know and update your views based on new data.”
Here are some text that I highlighted in the book:
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. Yet there are also deeper forces behind our resistance to rethinking. 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.
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.
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. You’re expected to doubt what you know, be curious about what you don’t know, and update your views based on new data.
Mental horsepower doesn’t guarantee mental dexterity. No matter how much brainpower you have, if you lack the motivation to change your mind, you’ll miss many occasions to think again. Research reveals that the higher you score on an IQ test, the more likely you are to fall for stereotypes, because you’re faster at recognizing patterns. And recent experiments suggest that the smarter you are, the more you might struggle to update your beliefs.
The better you are at crunching numbers, the more spectacularly you fail at analyzing patterns that contradict your views.
In psychology there are at least two biases that drive this pattern. One is confirmation bias: seeing what we expect to see. The other is desirability bias: seeing what we want to see. These biases don’t just prevent us from applying our intelligence. They can actually contort our intelligence into a weapon against the truth. We find reasons to preach our faith more deeply, prosecute our case more passionately, and ride the tidal wave of our political party. The tragedy is that we’re usually unaware of the resulting flaws in our thinking.
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.
They saw many of their policies as experiments to run, not points to score.
If knowledge is power, knowing what we don’t know is wisdom.
“The keyboard is one of the reasons they buy BlackBerrys.” Like a politician who campaigns only to his base, he focused on the keyboard taste of millions of existing users, neglecting the appeal of a touchscreen to billions of potential users.
Research shows that when people are resistant to change, it helps to reinforce what will stay the same. Visions for change are more compelling when they include visions of continuity. Although our strategy might evolve, our identity will endure.
The curse of knowledge is that it closes our minds to what we don’t know. Good judgment depends on having the skill—and the will—to open our minds. I’m pretty confident that in life, rethinking is an increasingly important habit. Of course, I might be wrong. If I am, I’ll be quick to think again.
and so, before every concert, she felt sick.
The ideal level of confidence probably lies somewhere between being an armchair quarterback and an impostor. How do we find that sweet spot?
The less intelligent we are in a particular domain, the more we seem to overestimate our actual intelligence in that domain.
“Learning requires the humility to realize one has something to learn.”
We don’t have to wait for our confidence to rise to achieve challenging goals. We can build it through achieving challenging goals. “I have come to welcome impostor syndrome as a good thing: it’s fuel to do more, try more,” Halla says. “I’ve learned to use it to my advantage. I actually thrive on the growth that comes from the self-doubt.”
Great thinkers don’t harbor doubts because they’re impostors. They maintain doubts because they know we’re all partially blind and they’re committed to improving their sight. They don’t boast about how much they know; they marvel at how little they understand. They’re aware that each answer raises new questions, and the quest for knowledge is never finished. A mark of lifelong learners is recognizing that they can learn something from everyone they meet. Arrogance leaves us blind to our weaknesses. Humility is a reflective lens: it helps us see them clearly. Confident humility is a corrective lens: it enables us to overcome those weaknesses.
I explained that being wrong isn’t always a bad thing. It can be a sign that we’ve learned something new—and that discovery itself can be a delight.
“Being wrong is the only way I feel sure I’ve learned anything.”
Who you are should be a question of what you value, not what you believe.
That’s where the best forecasters excelled: they were eager to think again. They saw their opinions more as hunches than as truths—as possibilities to entertain rather than facts to embrace. They questioned ideas before accepting them, and they were willing to keep questioning them even after accepting them. They were constantly seeking new information and better evidence—especially disconfirming evidence.
When he makes a forecast, he also makes a list of the conditions in which it should hold true—as well as the conditions under which he would change his mind.
They developed the courage to fight for their ideas and the resilience to lose a disagreement without losing their resolve.
Rethinking depends on a different kind of network: a challenge network, a group of people we trust to point out our blind spots and help us overcome our weaknesses. Their role is to activate rethinking cycles by pushing us to be humble about our expertise, doubt our knowledge, and be curious about new perspectives.
Ernest Hemingway once said, “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof sht detector.” My challenge network is my sht detector. I think of it as a good fight club. The first rule: avoiding an argument is bad manners. Silence disrespects the value of your views and our ability to have a civil disagreement.
HIPPO—the HIghest Paid Person’s Opinion.
Agreeableness is about seeking social harmony, not cognitive consensus.
Experiments show that simply framing a dispute as a debate rather than as a disagreement signals that you’re receptive to considering dissenting opinions and changing your mind, which in turn motivates the other person to share more information with you. A disagreement feels personal and potentially hostile; we expect a debate to be about ideas, not emotions. Starting a disagreement by asking, “Can we debate?” sends a message that you want to think like a scientist, not a preacher or a prosecutor—and encourages the other person to think that way, too.
“A weak argument generally dilutes a strong one.”
Being reasonable literally means that we can be reasoned with, that we’re open to evolving our views in light of logic and data.
A single line of argument feels like a conversation; multiple lines of argument can become an onslaught. The audience tuned out the preacher and summoned their best defense attorney to refute the prosecutor.
are you planning to attend? Attendance climbed to 85 percent. The question gave fans the freedom to make their own case for going.
We don’t have to convince them that we’re right—we just need to open their minds to the possibility that they might be wrong. Their natural curiosity might do the rest.
Beethoven and Mozart didn’t have higher hit rates than some of their peers; they generated a larger volume of work, which gave them more shots at greatness.
Me: You’re welcome to disagree with the data, but I don’t think that’s a respectful way to express your opinion. It’s not how I was trained to have an intellectual debate. Were you? Music man: Well, no . . . I just think you’re wrong. Me: It’s not my opinion—it’s the independent finding of two different social scientists. What evidence would change your mind?
When someone is losing control, your tranquility is a sign of strength. It takes the wind out of their emotional sails.
In a heated argument, you can always stop and ask, “What evidence would change your mind?” If the answer is “nothing,” then there’s no point in continuing the debate. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it think.
By agreeing with the argument against her in her cover letter, she preempted knee-jerk rejection, demonstrating that she was self-aware enough to discern her shortcomings and secure enough to admit them.
When we try to convince people to think again, our first instinct is usually to start talking. Yet the most effective way to help others open their minds is often to listen.
Me: It’s not my place to tell you how to lead. What does leadership mean to you?
That was a turning point. In motivational interviewing, there’s a distinction between sustain talk and change talk. Sustain talk is commentary about maintaining the status quo. Change talk is referencing a desire, ability, need, or commitment to make adjustments.
There’s a fourth technique of motivational interviewing, which is often recommended for the end of a conversation and for transition points: summarizing. The idea is to explain your understanding of other people’s reasons for change, to check on whether you’ve missed or misrepresented anything, and to inquire about their plans and possible next steps.
In a series of experiments, interacting with an empathetic, nonjudgmental, attentive listener made people less anxious and defensive. They felt less pressure to avoid contradictions in their thinking, which encouraged them to explore their opinions more deeply, recognize more nuances in them, and share them more openly.
Great listeners are more interested in making their audiences feel smart.
Even after talking through the science, he concluded the conversation by telling her he would let her think about it, affirming her freedom to make up her own mind.
The power of listening doesn’t lie just in giving people the space to reflect on their views. It’s a display of respect and an expression of care.
Listening is a way of offering others our scarcest, most precious gift: our attention. Once we’ve demonstrated that we care about them and their goals, they’re more willing to listen to us.
When conflict is cliché, complexity is breaking news.—Amanda Ripley
We can also convey complexity by highlighting contingencies.
reality that racism is a function of our actions, not merely our intentions. As historian Ibram X. Kendi writes, “Racist and antiracist are not fixed identities. We can be a racist one minute and an antiracist the next.” Humans, like polarizing issues, rarely come in binaries.
In fact, every time we try to help someone think again, we’re doing a kind of education. Whether we do our instruction in a classroom or in a boardroom, in an office or at our kitchen table, there are ways to make rethinking central to what—and how—we teach.
To figure out what it takes to change that mindset, I tracked down some extraordinary educators who foster rethinking cycles by instilling intellectual humility, disseminating doubt, and cultivating curiosity.
The focus is less on being right, and more on building the skills to consider different views and argue productively about them.
This is part of a broader movement to teach kids to think like fact-checkers: the guidelines include (1) “interrogate information instead of simply consuming it,” (2) “reject rank and popularity as a proxy for reliability,” and (3) “understand that the sender of information is often not its source.”
Lectures are not always the best method of learning, and they are not enough to develop students into lifelong learners.
What I found so inspiring about Nozick’s approach was that he wasn’t content for students to learn from him. He wanted them to learn with him.
so I set a benchmark: every year I would aim to throw out 20 percent of my class and replace it with new material. If I was doing new thinking every year, we could all start rethinking together.
I assigned students to work in small groups to record their own mini-podcasts or mini–TED talks. Their charge was to question a popular practice, to champion an idea that went against the grain of conventional wisdom, or to challenge principles covered in class.
Achieving excellence in school often requires mastering old ways of thinking. Building an influential career demands new ways of thinking. In a classic study of highly accomplished architects, the most creative ones graduated with a B average. Their straight-A counterparts were so determined to be right that they often failed to take the risk of rethinking the orthodoxy.
In a typical three-hour class, I would spend no more than twenty to thirty minutes lecturing. The rest is active learning—students make decisions in simulations and negotiate in role-plays, and then we debrief, discuss, debate, and problem solve.
On my next syllabus, I deliberately left one class session completely blank. Halfway through the semester, I invited the students to work in small groups to develop and pitch an idea for how we should spend that open day. Then they voted.
One of the most popular ideas came from Lauren McCann, who suggested a creative step toward helping students recognize that rethinking was a useful skill—and one they had already been using in college. She invited her classmates to write letters to their freshmen selves covering what they wish they had known back then. The students encouraged their younger selves to stay open to different majors, instead of declaring the first one that erased their uncertainty. To be less obsessed with grades, and more focused on relationships. To explore different career possibilities, rather than committing too soon to the one that promised the most pay or prestige.
This practice can extend far beyond the classroom. As we approach any life transition—whether it’s a first job, a second marriage, or a third child—we can pause to ask people what they wish they’d known before they went through that experience. Once we’re on the other side of it, we can share what we ourselves should have rethought.
the students hosted a day of “passion talks” on which anyone could teach the class about something he or she loved.
All the students give a passion talk as a way of introducing themselves to their peers.
When I asked a handful of education pioneers to name the best teacher of rethinking they’ve ever encountered, I kept hearing the same name: Ron Berger.
Confusion can be a cue that there’s new territory to be explored or a fresh puzzle to be solved.
believe that good teachers introduce new thoughts, but great teachers introduce new ways of thinking.
psychologically safe teams reported more errors, but they actually made fewer errors. By freely admitting their mistakes, they were then able to learn what had caused them and eliminate them moving forward. In psychologically unsafe teams, people hid their mishaps to avoid penalties, which made it difficult for anyone to diagnose the root causes and prevent future problems. They kept repeating the same mistakes.
What leads you to that assumption? Why do you think it is correct? What might happen if it’s wrong? What are the uncertainties in your analysis? I understand the advantages of your recommendation. What are the disadvantages?
“Tell the kids the truth. . . . You can be anything you’re good at . . . as long as they’re hiring.”
Kids might be better off learning about careers as actions to take rather than as identities to claim. When they see work as what they do rather than who they are, they become more open to exploring different possibilities.
Becoming a scientist might seem out of reach, but the act of experimenting is something we can all try out. Even prekindergarten students express more interest in science when it’s presented as something we do rather than someone we are.
In some ways, identity foreclosure is the opposite of an identity crisis: instead of accepting uncertainty about who we want to become, we develop compensatory conviction and plunge head over heels into a career path. I’ve noticed that the students who are the most certain about their career plans at twenty are often the ones with the deepest regrets by thirty. They haven’t done enough rethinking along the way.*
She finds that as people consider career choices and transitions, it helps to think like scientists. A first step is to entertain possible selves: identify some people you admire within or outside your field, and observe what they actually do at work day by day. A second step is to develop hypotheses about how these paths might align with your own interests, skills, and values. A third step is to test out the different identities by running experiments: do informational interviews, job shadowing, and sample projects to get a taste of the work. The goal is not to confirm a particular plan but to expand your repertoire of possible selves—which keeps you open to rethinking.
“You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another.”
Phase 1: I’m not important Phase 2: I’m important Phase 3: I want to contribute to something important
For centuries, there was no general term for people whose profession was to discover knowledge through developing hypotheses, designing experiments, and collecting data. I hope we don’t wait that long to recognize that this way of thinking applies to every line of work—and any walk of life.
In the most memorable line from the speech, FDR argued that “the country demands bold, persistent experimentation.” That principle became a touchstone of his leadership. Although economists are still debating which of the resulting reforms lifted the country out of a historic depression, FDR’s trial-and-error method of formulating policy was popular enough that Americans elected him president four times.
I’m curious: do you agree? If not, what evidence would change your mind?
To prevent overconfidence in your knowledge, reflect on how well you can explain a given subject.
Learn something new from each person you meet. Everyone knows more than you about something. Ask people what they’ve been rethinking lately, or start a conversation about times you’ve changed your mind in the past year.
Acknowledge common ground. A debate is like a dance, not a war. Admitting points of convergence doesn’t make you weaker—it shows that you’re willing to negotiate about what’s true, and it motivates the other side to consider your point of view.
Invite kids to do multiple drafts and seek feedback from others. Creating different versions of a drawing or a story can encourage kids to learn the value of revising their ideas. Getting input from others can also help them to continue evolving their standards. They might learn to embrace confusion—and to stop expecting perfection on the first try.
Stop asking kids what they want to be when they grow up. They don’t have to define themselves in terms of a career. A single identity can close the door to alternatives. Instead of trying to narrow their options, help them broaden their possibilities. They don’t have to be one thing—they can do many things.
Rethink your actions, not just your surroundings. Chasing happiness can chase it away. Trading one set of circumstances for another isn’t always enough. Joy can wax and wane, but meaning is more likely to last. Building a sense of purpose often starts with taking actions to enhance your learning or your contribution to others.