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Book Review - Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know

(posted: September 1st, 2021)

Leadership Book Review

[A link to the book is provided as a courtesy to the reader. The review is my own opinion, the book was purchased, and I do not receive any kind of compensation if you click on a link!]

Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know is another great addition to your leadership bookshelf.

Written by Adam Grant, Wharton professor and organizational psychologist, its themes fit in with books we’ve talked about in the past, like Grit, Mindset, and Resilience.

Tunnel vision around our goals, habits and identities can find us stuck on a narrow path, and that's a problem, especially for leaders in our ever-changing, never-stagnant world of work. In “Think Again” Grant shows that the way to counter this is to be flexible in thoughts and beliefs, and to develop a habit of “rethinking”.

He suggests that when we interact with others, we often respond via one of three mental modes.

Preacher Mode:' We go into this mode when our sacred beliefs are in jeopardy; in this mode we are convinced we are right, and we deliver sermons to protect and promote our ideals.

Prosecutor Mode:' We enter this mode when we find flaws in other people’s reasoning; we marshal arguments to prove them wrong and win our case.

Politician Mode:' We shift into this mode when we’re seeking to win over an audience; we campaign and lobby for approval.

Says Grant, “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.” We get stuck and find it hard to change our minds, even with compelling evidence.

Think Like a Scientist

Instead, Dr. Grant suggests that we could all become better at rethinking if we processed information like scientists. We move into scientist mode when we are searching for the truth, which involves running experiments to test our theories and discovering knowledge. In this mode, we favor humility over pride and curiosity over conviction.

Getting to the point of thinking and reacting to situations involves more than just having an open mind. It requires being actively open-minded.

Thinking like a scientist is a frame of mind—having the humility to know what you don’t know and the curiosity to find out more. It requires searching for reasons why you might be wrong—not for reasons why you must be right—and revising your views based on what you learn.

When you’re thinking like a scientist, you don’t let your ideas become your identity. You listen to ideas that make you think hard, not just the ones that make you feel good.

You surround yourself with people who challenge your thought process, not just the ones who agree with your conclusions.

And, as we’ve talked about before, this is especially critical if you want to be a great leader. Leaders need to be able to hear and consider new ideas and feedback to grow themselves, and their organizations. Revising your opinions based on what you learn puts you in a better position to help others learn too.

Grant encourages readers to develop intellectual humility, accept criticism of their work, and have a “challenge network” of people that can help prevent tunnel vision.

Great thinkers don't boast about how much they know; they marvel at how little they understand. 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.

~ Adam Grant

Rethinking requires intentionality and a desire to change.

When we take action to update our closely held beliefs, we will encounter stages of doubt, uncomfortableness, and frustration.

Because rethinking can, at times, be difficult, Grant gives us two ways to activate rethinking and cultivate intellectual humility: Counterfactual Thinking and Actions for Impact.

One of his suggestions that I like a lot is to identify something you are wrong about each day, which is a great way to stay humble and receptive to new ideas and change.

Something that I have focused on for years in my coaching with leaders is “active listening,” a practice that supports Grants’ points and suggestions. Being a good listener requires you to be open and curious, and willing to hear everything that is said, not just what you think you want to hear. It allows you to seek, and accept, genuine, constructive feedback. It makes it much more likely that you will catch problems early, and find innovative, creative ideas, solutions, products, services, and approaches.

Think, and Rethink, to Become the Best Version of You

Intelligence is traditionally viewed as the ability to think and learn. Yet in a turbulent world, there’s another set of cognitive skills that might matter more: the ability to rethink and unlearn. Grants' latest book approaches this idea from the perspective of a divided society, but the lessons apply to leaders and their leadership goals at least as much.

Challenge Yourself
  • Have you read "Think Again"? If so, what stood out to you?
  • How will you experiment with “thinking like a scientist” and rethinking?

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