Think Again

We favor the comfort of conviction over the discomfort of doubt.” ~ Adam Grant

On our way to Ajijic, Mexico, my wife, Camille, and I spent four months this past summer in northern California with family. We were living in Sonoma County — a hotbed of old hippies, winegrowers, tech millionaires, and cannabis entrepreneurs. NONE of these folks liked being told what to do — about their property and about their bodies. There seemed to be a unique hybrid of political lefties with strong libertarian streaks. One manifestation of this was the decision of families not to be vaccinated against the COVID virus. 

I became REALLY fascinated by this dynamic. After all, there were some very smart folks making decisions that went against the grain of most people in the country. 

Think Again

Searching for answers, I picked up Adam Grant’s latest book, Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know (Amazon Kindle link), a book about the value of rethinking. 

At a time when calcified ideologies are tearing our culture apart, Grant reminds us that one of our most important cognitive skills is the ability to rethink and unlearn. 

Grant invites us to master the art of rethinking — to let go of the knowledge and opinions that no longer serve us and to anchor ourselves in flexibility rather than consistency. 

He notes a hallmark of wisdom is knowing when it’s time to abandon some of our most treasured tools and some of the most cherished parts of our identities. He argues that rethinking can help generate new solutions to old problems, and revisit old solutions to new problems. 

Grant, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, studies organizational psychology. His job is to rethink how we work, lead, and live. He’s been the youngest tenured professor at Wharton and has been consistently ranked by students as the best professor at the university.

Preachers, Prosecutors, and Politicians

As we think and talk, Grant notes, we tend to slip into the modes of preachers, prosecutors, and politicians. In each, we use different sets of tools.

We go into preacher mode when our beliefs are in jeopardy. We deliver sermons to protect and promote our ideals.

We enter prosecutor mode when we recognize flaws in others’ reasoning, and we argue to prove them wrong and win them over to our side.

We shift into politician mode when we seek to win over an audience, and we campaign and lobby for their approval. 

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.

Be A Scientist, Instead

Grant argues that we should adopt the mindset of a scientist — a mode of thinking that differs from preaching, prosecuting, and politicking. We move into scientist mode when we’re searching for the truth: we run experiments to test hypotheses and discover knowledge.

Rethinking is fundamental to scientists. They’re paid to be constantly aware of the limits of their understanding. They’re expected to doubt what they know, be curious about what they don’t know, and update their views based on new data.

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.

What Do You Think?

Grant reminds us that the brighter we are, the harder it can be to see our own limitations. Being good at thinking can make us worse at rethinking. He provides a number of examples of really smart people who just couldn’t get out of their own way in terms of their beliefs. They were sure they were on the right path and continually misread the signals in their environments. 

Research shows that when people are resistant to change, it helps to reinforce what will stay the same. Good judgment, however, depends on having the skill — and the will — to open our minds.

Can you rethink your basic beliefs to gain a better understanding of those with whom you disagree?

Can you consider that YOUR beliefs might be the ones that require rethinking?

Do you think that embracing the mindset of a scientist can help us as a society overcome our calcified “truths”?

Talk to me. I want to hear what you’ve got to say.

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