Saturday, January 8, 2022

Think Again- Learning to Rethink - A review

 

Think Again

The Power of Knowing  

What You Don’t Know

By

  Adam Grant

Reviewed by

  Geoffrey W. Sutton

 



ThinkAgain works. Throughout the book, I found myself rethinking some of my assumptions and learning new applications of familiar and new psychological findings. In many ways, Adam Grant challenges us to rethink what we are doing at work, school, and even in relationships. It’s a book that deserves a place in any syllabus challenging students to think and rethink their assumptions and to develop confident humility. But Think Again also belongs in discussion groups in the workplace.

On a technical note, Grant divides the book into four parts followed by an Epilogue, and a more or less set of summary statements presented as Actions for Impact. The chapters are introduced with a poignant story. As the theme of a chapter unfolds, we encounter more stories and illustrations that help us appreciate the author’s point. You’ll find it’s like taking a course from a master lecturer with the added bonus that you can pause and think about the points. The notes are extensive and the index, comprehensive. Including the end matter, it’s only 307 pages but the conclusion ends on page 243.

A Brief Summary

There’s a lot to unpack in this book. I’ve focused on some of the salient points.

Part 1: Individual Rethinking

We learn about three roles we may take in arguing our opinions; however, Grant wants us to think like scientists, which is a theme repeated throughout the text. When we adopt the scientist role, we begin with doubt but have hypotheses. We collect data from experiments, which enables us to discover usable knowledge. Now about those other roles. As preachers we present our ideas as gospel and argue against different views by calling them heresies. As politicians, we are swayed by popular opinion instead of facts. As prosecutors, we are passionate about destroying other ideas instead of discovering truth. Throughout part 1 we learn to appreciate conflict as long as we are focused on information about how to improve our work on the tasks at hand rather than defending against interpersonal threats.

Part 2: Interpersonal Rethinking

Here the focus changes on how we can interact with others in a positive manner by framing disagreements as debates and discovering ways to influence people who resist new and effective ways to solve problems. People are not easily persuaded by logical arguments with a long list of reasons why we should support a particular opinion. Researchers find that the weaker reasons gain the focus of those who want to reject the main idea. Thus, presenting a few strong reasons is often the best approach.

Also, it turns out that presenting two sides of an argument is not the best way to help others rethink a strongly held position. What works? Sometimes, the best method is to present several alternatives—that is, move from simplicity to complexity.

Catchy quote: “What doesn’t sway us can make our beliefs stronger.”

Part 3: Collective Rethinking

Grant encourages us to think about out community and promote lifelong learning. We learn how to promote rethinking at work by creating a psychologically safe setting where conflicting opinions can be offered without fear of reprisal. We find an example of a teacher who encourages children to rework their original projects based on peer and expert feedback. And we are reminded of the importance of rewriting drafts.

Part 4: Conclusion

Grant encourages us to rethink our careers and plans rather than pursuing a vocation or life choice that isn’t working out. The problem with persistence in a failed enterprise is known as the “escalation of commitment.”

Comments

I began this post by recommending the book for students and people in the workplace. I can easily recommend it to retirees like myself. It’s rarely too late to rethink a course of action by examining the data of our lives and making new plans. As I write, the pandemic of 2019 as thwarted a number of plans. I’ve made plans based on what I know at this time. Flexibility is built into offers of wonderful adventures I can book. What strikes me is the importance of flexibility when pursuing a course of action.

I strongly affirm Adam’s theme of learning to think like a scientist. In graduate school, we were to be scientists first before applying scientific knowledge to helping people. The culmination of our work was to be an original experiment following strict rules of protocol. As a clinician, I encouraged patients to think about their beliefs, assumptions, and how they could rethink the troubling events in their lives. After years as a clinician, I taught research and statistics to undergraduate and graduate students. Many were fearful of statistics. Yet, many developed a sense of pride when it came to presenting their end of semester projects—they had learned how to discover knowledge rather than rely on mere opinion.

It may be an oversimplification of dealing with information by considering four roles (scientist, preacher, prosecutor, and politician), but I see his point and find myself in agreement. There is a nuance. In some settings, preaching and prosecuting may make sense. We live in a time when scientific knowledge presented by scientists is treated with cynicism rather than skepticism. My skepticism probably began with my father who was highly critical of opinions other than his own. Philosophy courses helped me develop more cogent arguments as I learned to identify weaknesses in my own opinions. I value skepticism but not cynicism. It’s good to analyze news reports, advertisements, educational theories, politician’s promises, history books, and medical advice. However, rejection of expert views in favor of opinions by those lacking expertise can lead to disasters in relationships, health, and governance.

The Epilogue could use some rethinking. Perhaps a few questions could send us on our way.

About the author

Adam Grant  is an organizational psychologist at Wharton. He earned his PhD from the University of Michigan.

About the reviewer

GeoffreyW. Sutton is a retired psychologist and professor of psychology who continues to write about psychology. He earned his PhD from the University of Missouri.

Book Reference

Grant, A. (2021). Think again: the power of knowing what you don’t know. New York: Penguin Random House.

Connections

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An interview on YouTube about "Think Again"




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