Book Review: Think Again (A. Grant)

We listen to views that make us feel good, instead of ideas that make us think hard (Grant, 4)

What a great read – accessible, humorous, and important. Think Again, by Adam Grant is a great read that provides compelling reasons why we need to think in different ways, and how to do so. The book is divided into three main parts: “Individual Rethinking“, “Interpersonal Rethinking” and “Collective Rethinking“.

You would be interested in this book if:
1) You wanted support in reframing how to think about the intersections of our current quad-demic landscape (Covid-19, JEDI, Wellbeing and Climate Change)
2) You wanted to upskill your strategic and design thinking strategies and lenses
3) You wanted to become more effective through listening and supporting the thinking of others
4) You wanted to deep dive into what it means to learn & unlearn

Individual Rethinking

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. [They signal that] Although our strategy might evolve, our identity will endure.
(Grant, 31)

Have you ever heard these lines before: “That will never work here”, “That’s not what my experience tells me will work”, “That the way we’ve always done it”. If you haven’t yet thought about how to accelerate out of the curve, it is to rethink what are the immovable objects in culture, in systems and structures. There are less of them than you think.

In this book, Adam Grant uncovers that much of this thinking is due to overconfidence in what is working, and ignorance / lack of confidence in how things might work, albeit differently.

The solution:

(1) Consider yourself to have ‘confident humility’: “having faith in our capability while appreciating that we may not have the right solution or even be addressing the right problem. This give us enough doubt to reexamine our old knowledge and enough confidence to pursue insights.” (Grant, pg. 47)

(2) Lead by your values, not your opinions: “Who you are should be a question of what you value, not what you believe.” (Grant, 64)

These two strategies support you in overcoming your adherence to your beliefs, and allows you to update your beliefs.

Interpersonal Rethinking:

I really enjoyed this part of the book, as it focused on how to work well in teams – a key skill for future-readiness. If you don’t know what “Project Debater” is, I strongly encourage you to look into how IBM is developing AI software to debate against humans (and it is winning!).  But in this section, Grant highlights why it lost against one of the world’s top debaters: It wasn’t able to agree. It just focused on refutation.

We won’t have much luck changing other people’s minds if we refuse to change ours. We can demonstrate openness by acknowledging where we agree with our critics and even what we’ve learned from them. Then, when we ask what views they might be willing to revise, we’re not hypocrites. (Grant. 107)

In order to be open to rethinking, unlearning and relearning, we have to build on the two strategies from personal rethinking, and bring this to our relationships with others. Finding a common ground is a foundation for rich, fruitful discussions, disagreements and even arguments that don’t end in the sacrifice of personal relationships. (Note: Grant’s framing of the Wright Brothers working / personal relationship is a great read!)

Collective Rethinking

In this book, Grant posits that when in a discussion on the collective of an issue, you can be only choose two of the three options:

  1. Accuracy
  2. Clarity
  3. Simplicity

If you choose, accuracy and clarity, you can’t mount a simple argument. Likewise, to be clear and simple, means that you will sacrifice some accuracy. So, now that we know that, what might we do about?

We can give time, and energy to pursue all three. We need to be perspective seekers, and we need to decry contentment with a simple argument – this we do at our own peril!

From time to time I’ve run into idea cults – groups that stir up a batch of oversimplified Kool-Aid and recruit followers to serve it widely. They preach the merits of their pet concept and prosecute anyone who calls for nuance or complexity… In education, there are idea cults around learning styles…Some educators are determined to tailor their instruction accordingly despite decades of evidence that although student might enjoy listening, reading or doing, they don’t actually learn better that way. (Grant, 176)

To avoid being a member of an idea cult, we need to recognize in ourselves when we are setting out to:

  1. Prosecute – to take up a position of being against the “other side” of the argument, and speak only to why they are wrong
  2. Guessing at Perspective – otherwise known as perspective taking. We must seek out the perspectives of others, and not just act on limited (or no) data
  3. Preacher – to take up a position that your perspective / answer / understanding is the right one, and talking to and over others to make sure that this side is all they hear

If we can avoid these, then we can lean into being a Scientist of Ideas: “a mode of thinking that differs from preaching, prosecuting and politicking… we’re searching for the truth: we run experiments to test hypotheses and discover knowledge.” (Grant, 20). I would go further and say that we seek out perspectives and keep failure, or being wrong, in perspective. Grant would say that being wrong can be joyful – and has many examples to support this too!

This book is full of great strategies, and they are woven in with humour and really effective anecdotes. Here is a great interview to get to know Adam Grant a little better and the origins of “Think Again” from experiences in his own life.


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