Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know – Adam Grant
Thoughts: Decent. While I took some things from it useful for my personal interests, certain passages really felt like reading like a book for business executives.
(The notes below are not a summary of the book, but rather raw notes - whatever I thought, at the time, might be worth remembering. I read this as an e-book, so page numbers are as they appeared in the app I used, Libby.)
Grant, Adam. 2021. Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know. Viking.
Part I: Individual Rethinking
Chapter 1: A Preacher, a Prosecutor, a Politician, and a Scientist Walk into Your Mind
- 28: Phil Tetlock noted that, when we’re not consciously trying to find the truth, we tend to slip into one of three personae: preacher, prosecutor, politician:
- 28: “We go into preacher mode when our sacred beliefs are in jeopardy: we deliver sermons to protect and promote our ideals.”
- 28-29: “We enter prosecutor mode when we recognize flaws in other people’s reasoning: we marshall arguments to prove them wrong and win our case.”
- 29: “We shift into politician mode when we’re seeking to win over an audience: we campaign and lobby for the approval of our constituents.”
- 36: “desirability bias: seeing what we want to see”
- 39: Grant notes that the process of rethinking usually begins with intellectual humility, and suggests that everyone “should… be able to make a long list of areas where [they’re] ignorant.” j: This would be a useful exercise. Perhaps even keep a running record on my website?
Chapter 2: The Armchair Quarterback and the Impostor
- 60: what Grant calls confident humility is the ideal in confidence: “What we want to attain is confident humility: having faith in our capability while appreciating that we may not have the right solution or even be addressing the right problem.”
- i.e. secure belief in oneself, while being skeptical of one’s beliefs/evidence/tactics.
- 64: impostor syndrome is not necessarily a bad thing, as it can push you to learn new things and to seek second opinions. “[Nurses in a study] who self-identified as imposters didn’t do any worse in their diagnoses, and they did significantly better when it came to bedside manner—they were rated as more empathetic, respectful, and professional, as well as more effective in asking questions and sharing information.” Researchers have found similar results in at least one other field (investment professionals).
- n.b.: “This evidence is new, and we still have a lot to learn about when imposter syndrome is beneficial versus when it’s detrimental.”
- 65- : Grant identifies three benefits of doubt:
- 65: “feeling like an impostor… can motivate us to work harder”
- 66: feeling like an impostor can motivate us to re-evaluate our tactics. “When we don’t believe we’re going to win, we have nothing to lose by rethinking our strategy.”
- 66: feeling like an imposter can help us learn: the first step in learning a thing is recognizing that you have something to learn about that thing, whereas feeling like an expert can be an impediment to learning new things.
Chapter 3: The Joy of Being Wrong
- 73: to look up: “classic paper” by sociologist Murray Davis in which he argues that “When ideas survive, it’s not because they’re true—it’s because they’re interesting. What makes an idea interesting is that it challenges our weakly held opinions.”
- Murray S. Davis. “That’s Interesting! Toward a Phenomenology of Sociology and a Sociology of Phenomenology,” Philosophy of Social Science 1 (1971): 309-44.
- 77: “To unlock the joy of being wrong, we need to detach. I’ve learned that two kinds of detachment are especially useful: detaching your present from your past and detaching your opinions from your identity.”
- 78: Grant opines that “Who you are should be a question of what you value, not what you believe…. When people define themselves by values rather than opinions, they buy themselves the flexibility to update their practices in light of new evidence.”
- 81-82: Phil Tetlock’s studies of forecasting ability found intelligence to be the second strongest predictor of forecasting ability. The strongest predictor? “The single most important driver of forecasters’ success was how often they updated their beliefs. The best forecasters went through more rethinking cycles. They had the confident humility to doubt their judgements and the curiosity to discover new information that led them to revise their predictions.”
- 88: “Jean-Pierre Beugoms [a very effective forecaster] has a favourite trick for catching himself when he’s wrong. 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. He explains that this keeps him honest, preventing him from getting attached to a bad prediction.”
- we can do this in our own life: “When you form an opinion, ask yourself what would have to happen to prove it false.”
Chapter 4: The Good Fight Club
- 94-96: Grant draws a distinction between relationship conflict and task conflict in teams:
- relationship conflict:
- 94: “Personal, emotional clashes that are filled not just with friction but also with animosity”
- 96: tend to inhibit rethinking
- task conflict:
- 94: “clashes about ideas and opinions”
- 96: tend to lead to higher creativity, “smarter choices”
- relationship conflict:
- 103: the importance of having a challenge network: a group of people who are willing and able to provide frank feedback, offer criticism
- 110: “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.”
- 111: pointing out people’s illusions of explanatory depth can cause them to be more open to considering new ideas:
- “When social scientists ask people why they favour particular policies on taxes, healthcare, or nuclear sanctions, they often doubled down on their convictions. Asking people to explain how do you’s policies would work in practice—or how they explained them to an expert—sometimes activated a rethinking cycle. They noticed gaps in their knowledge, doubted their conclusions, and in some cases became less extreme; they were now more curious about alternative options.”
Part II: Interpersonal Rethinking
Chapter 5: Dances with Foes
- 123-124: In a study led by Neil Rackham, it was discovered that expert negotiators generally present fewer points than less effective negotiators.
- 124: Rackham: “A weak argument generally dilutes a strong one.”
- “The more reasons we put on the table, the easier it is for people to discard the shakiest one. Once they reject one of our justifications, they can easily dismiss our entire case.”
- 127-128: expert debater Harish Natarajan suggests that one of the best ways to find common ground in arguments is to begin with the “steel man” of your interlocutor’s argument - the strongest statement of their case - rather than a straw man version of their argument.
- 132: “Psychologists have long found that the person most likely to persuade you to change your mind is you. You get to pick the reasons you find most compelling, and you come away with a real sense of ownership over them. ¶ That’s where [Natarajan]’s final edge came in [in the story Grant is telling about Natarajan’s debate with a computer, which offered declarative statements about the side it was arguing]. In every round he post more questions to contemplate [compared to the computer, which would ask a single question at the beginning of each round].”
- 135: Expert negotiators are “more likely to comment on their feelings about the process and test their understanding of the other side’s feelings” than average negotiators.
- 136: “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.”
Chapter 6: Bad Blood on the Diamond
- 157: in a study Grant led where he tried different techniques to diminish animosity between sports fans supporting rival teams, Grant et al. “found that it was thinking about the arbitrariness of their animosity—not positive qualities of the rival—that mattered.”
- 158: “A key step [in dismantling people’s stereotypes and decreasing their prejudices] is getting them to do some counterfactual thinking: helping them consider what they’d believe if they were living in an alternative reality.”
- 159: “people gain humility when they reflect on how different circumstances could have lied them to different beliefs.”
- 162: “In a meta-analysis of over five hundred studies with over 250,000 participants, interacting with members of another group reduced prejudice in 94 percent of the cases. Although intergroup communication isn’t a panacea, that is a staggering statistic.”
Chapter 7: Vaccine Whisperers and Mild-Mannered Interrogators
- 180: “When we are trying to get people to change, …even if we have the best intentions, we can easily slip into the mode of a preacher perched on a pulpit…. We are all vulnerable to the ‘righting reflex,’ as [Bill] Miller and [Stephen] Rollnick describe it—the desire to fix problems and offer answers. A skilled motivational interviewer resists the righting reflex—although people want a doctor to fix their broken bones, when it comes to the problems in their heads, they often want sympathy rather than solutions.”
- 182: “Many communicators try to make themselves look smart. Great listeners are more interested in making their audiences feel smart.”
- Grant suggests inverse charisma as a term to describe this quality of great listeners.
Part III: Collective Rethinking
Chapter 8: Charged Conversations
- 188: binary bias - the “basic human tendency to seek clarity and closure by simplifying a complex continuum into two categories”
- “An antidote to this proclivity is complexifying: showcasing the range of perspectives on a given topic…. To borrow a phrase from Walt Whitman, it takes a multitude of views to help people realize that they too contain multitudes.”
- 189: “Resisting the impulse to simplify is a step toward becoming more argument literate.”
- 192: “To overcome binary bias, a good starting point is to become aware of the range of perspectives across a given spectrum.”
- 194: “As consumers of information, we have a role to play in embracing a more nuanced point of view. When we’re reading, listening, or watching, we can learn to recognize complexity as a signal of credibility. We can favour content and sources that present many sides of an issue rather than just one or two.”
- 195: “When journalists acknowledge the uncertainties around facts on complex issues like climate change and immigration, it doesn’t undermine their readers’ trust. And multiple experiments have shown that when experts express doubt, they become more persuasive. When someone knowledgable admits uncertainty, it surprises people, and they end up paying more attention to the substance of the argument.”
Chapter 9: Rewriting the Textbook
- 228: Grant notes that children can be quite comfortable doing multiple drafts of drawings, and encourages his own children to do multiple drafts of their own drawings “as excited as they were to see their first draft hanging on the wall, there that much prouder of their fourth version.”
- j: how can I incorporate more making-multiple-drafts of things in my life?
Chapter 10: That’s Not the Way We’ve Always Done It
- 233: A study by Amy Edmondson found that teams with high levels of psychologicl safety reported making more medical errors than teams with lower levels, but made fewer errors.
- 234: “Edmondson is quick to point out that psychological safety is not a matter of relaxing standards, making people comfortable, being nice and agreeable, or giving unconditional praise. It’s fostering a climate of respect, trust, and openness in which people can raise concerns and suggestions without fear of reprisal.”
- 236: Ellen Ochoa’s suggestions of questions to ask to shift workplace culture from performance culture to learning, psychological safety culture:
- “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?”
- The big one: “How do you know?”
- 238: effective way for managers/team leaders to foster psychological safety: getting up in front of their team and sharing past experiences of receiving feedback, and sharing the goals they’re working towards / shortcomings in themselves they’re seeking to improve
Part IV: Conclusion
Chapter 11: Escaping Tunnel Vision
- 255: Escalation of commitment: Sunk cost fallacy plays a factor, but “escalation of commitment happens because we’re rationalizing creatures, constantly searching for self-justification for our prior beliefs as a way to sooth our egos, shield or images, and validate our past decisions.”
- Escalation of commitment “can be fuelled by one of the most celebrated engines of success: grit. Grit is the combination of passion and perseverance, and research shows that it can play in important role in motivating us to accomplish long-term goals. When it comes to rethinking, though, grit may have a dark side.”
- 255: Identity foreclosure: “when we settle prematurely on a sense of self without enough due diligence, and close our minds to alternative selves.”
- 260: Grant suggests putting a reminder in your calendar twice a year to ask yourself: “When did you form the aspirations you’re currently pursuing, and how have you changed since then? Have you reached a learning plateau in your role or workplace, and is it time to consider a pivot?”
- 263: “Psychologists find that doing an annual relationship health checkup improves satisfaction in married couples.”
- 265: “In more collectivistic Eastern cultures…, pursuing happiness predicts higher well-being, because people prioritize social engagement over independent activities.”
- 267: Whereas people who seek happiness by going to a new place rarely see improvements in happiness, a series of studies found that “students who changed their actions by joining a new club, adjusting their study habits, or starting a new project experienced lasting gains in happiness. Our happiness often depends more on what we do than where we are. It’s our actions—not our surroundings—that bring us meaning and belonging.”
- 269: “Open systems are governed by at least two key principles: there are always multiple paths to the same end (equifinality), and the same starting point can be a path to many different ends (multifinality). We should be careful to avoid getting too attached to a particular route or even a particular destination.”
Posted: Oct 24, 2022. Last updated: Aug 31, 2023.