I thoroughly enjoyed Adam Grant’s, an organizational psychologist at The Wharton School, book titled Think Again. I finished this book in about a week, which is unusual for me. He does a great job combining personal stories with interesting research studies that keep you flipping the page. The book is incredibly relevant as he addresses the polarization in our society and how we all could be a little more open minded by thinking more like a scientist every day. In a constantly changing world, Grant challenges us to rethink everything we may have grown up learning in school or stereotypes we may unconsciously hold. You will learn how to have a real debate, the joy of being wrong, how you could change someone’s mind on a passionate topic, our tendencies of binary bias, and how your future life plans may not be right for you anymore. Overall, you will learn how to think more like a scientist and less like a preacher, politician or prosecutor. I believe we can all make the world a little better if we take the advice of Grant in his book Think Again.
Rethinking in a rapidly changing world
Most of us take pride in our knowledge and expertise, and in staying true to our beliefs and opinions. That makes sense in a stable world, where we get rewarded for having conviction in our ideas. The problem is that we live in a rapidly changing world, where we need to spend as much time rethinking as we do thinking.Adam Grant, Think Again – Chapter 1
This quote immediately grabbed my attention for a multitude of reasons that the book dives into. This statement so eloquently puts what so many of us are going through today. The world is constantly changing, our eyes are being opened to new science, unknown prejudices are caught on camera and yet the conflict arises because we live in a society that rewards conviction in our own ideas and beliefs, our old ideas. In order to keep up with a constantly evolving world, we need to rethink and be open to new information, we have to go against our old beliefs or passionate political sides and face the risk of being called wishy washy or worse yet experience an identity crisis. Grant gives a great example of Pluto being discovered to not be a planet anymore. Why do so many of us struggle to accept this new science? The same reason we struggle to accept new ideas or research around a passionate political topic. We struggle to accept something we used to think was fact and we tie those beliefs to our identity. I wonder if this is why there is so much conflict around science these days. Grant explains that thanks to information and technology, knowledge is increasing at a faster rate than ever before. I can’t help but relate this to COVID-19 guidelines, where one day guidelines say the best thing to do is wash your hands, the next day it’s better if you wear your mask. We are asking a generation of people to accept that science is not necessarily fact, but a constantly evolving work of discovery. We can trust what science says today, but not yesterday, because a whole bunch of artificial intelligence and billions of research dollars just proved yesterday’s science was wrong. I can’t help but think we have never been in a situation like this in history, discoveries like this used to take generations, now it takes seconds. I totally understand the confusion people are facing around vaccines, climate change and racial injustice in a continuously changing world.
- Challenge your strongly held beliefs and opinions with data and think more like a scientist
- Detaching your identity to your beliefs allows you to be more open minded to new information. As Grant states, “Who you are should be a question of what you value, not what you believe“
- Challenge: How often have you sought out information that directly conflicts with your views?
- Being wrong means you are learning! Lets celebrate being wrong more!
Hearing an opposing opinion doesn’t necessarily motivate you to rethink your own stance; it makes it easier for you to stick to your guns (or your gun bans). Presenting two extremes isn’t the solution; its part of the polarization problem.Adam Grant, Think Again – Chapter 8
Grant convinced me that binary bias is the key part of our polarization problem. Grant explains binary bias as “a basic human tendency to seek clarity and closure by simplifying a complex continuum into two categories.” Democrat vs. Republican, climate activist vs. skeptics, gun bans vs. right to bear arms, pro-choice vs. pro-life, us vs. them. Grant shows us that it’s much more complex than that, it’s not one or the other, instead there’s a continuum of these beliefs and both sides agree on a lot of the debate when they take the time to discuss the issue. For example, Grant cites a study that shows only 10% of the population actually dismiss global warming, 10% are doubtful, 7% are disengaged, 16% are cautious, 26% are concerned and 31% are alarmed. That’s a whole different story than us versus them. Grant even shares that although gun laws seem to show a divided America, polls actually show consensus on required background checks (supported by 83% of Republicans and 96% of Democrats) and mental health screenings (favored by 81% of Republicans and 94% of Democrats). So why then do we see the world in binary and feel so hopeless often? Well, because of the media and headlines. Although the majority of people actually agree on issues around climate change, the media will show you stories of extreme climate deniers, they are featured 49% more often than expert scientists. Why? Because it gets your attention and news anchors need to pay the bills with your views. Always be cautious of your media outlets, their job is not to provide you with the whole story, but instead a piece of a story (and likely the most extreme piece). Perhaps we aren’t as divided as we thought.
- Grant advises that “When we come across simplifying headlines, we can fight our tendency to accept binaries by asking what additional perspectives are missing between the extremes.”
- I recommend reading the book Factfulness by Hans Rosling if you enjoyed this topic.
Escalation of Commitment
Escalation of commitment happens because we’re rationalizing creatures, constantly searching for self-justifications for our prior beliefs as a way to soothe our egos, shield our images, and validate our past decisions.Adam Grant, Think Again – Chapter 11
This section stuck out to me because we hear all the time things like “I always wanted to be a writer or a mom, I have dreamt of moving to Italy my whole life, this was always my dream wedding idea, I was meant to be an artist”. The problem with these aspirations is that we get so focused on this big dream, that we don’t accept that maybe we have changed, maybe 12 year old self wanted to be a singer but 30 year old self actually would be an incredible architect. This is what Grant calls escalation of commitment, we keep committing to a dream we made years ago even though all the signs are pointing us in another direction. Our society rewards gritty people, but research shows that “gritty mountaineers are more likely to die on expeditions, because they’re determined to do whatever it takes to reach the summit. There’s a fine line between heroic persistence and foolish stubbornness“. Maybe we need to reward grit less and reward rethinking more.
- Grant challenges us with two questions that we need to ask ourselves twice a year: When did you form the aspirations you’re currently pursuing, and how have you changed since then? Have you reached a learning plateau on your role or your workplace, and is it time to consider a pivot?
- Check out my article on How to Do a Career Shift, it’s never too late!
There are additional topics that Grant covers in his book titled Think Again other than the ones listed above that are full of insight. This book not only challenged me to rethink my own opinions and beliefs, but it also opened my eyes on how to be more kind and understanding towards those who think different than me. It taught me healthy ways to engage in dialogue on touchy topics without severing a relationship. I hope you get the chance to read the book and if not, I hope you got to enjoy some takeaways in my review.
Amazon Purchase: Think Again