Although this topic fascinates me, I may have bit off more than I can chew. The insights and examples in this month’s book, Think Again by Adam Grant, can lead to some heavy introspection and a few deep rabbit holes. With that said, the topic is too important to ignore, and even a cursory examination of one’s own thought process can bear some incredible fruit.
The concept of “knowing what you don’t know” can appear daunting at first glance; however, Grant does a masterful job of segmenting the subject into digestible sections. I was taken by the anecdotes at the front and back of each chapter that drove the point home in a real-world setting.
In a nutshell, each of us possesses a collection of thought processes and academic/experiential knowledge on which we depend to navigate every situation we encounter. Some people excel at this — you probably know a couple of those who regularly amaze you with their quick and decisive application of what they know. Unfortunately, many of us, especially later in life, suffer from a blind obedience to these elements without questioning their validity. They have always served us in the past, why would we doubt them now?
Grant submits that a lack of willingness to question our long-held beliefs can produce less than desirable results. A lack of flexibility, along with overconfidence and the resulting bad decisions, can be a substantial barrier to our success. The question is, how do we know what we know and how do we know if we’re right?
Grant posits a process he refers to as “rethinking.” It is a matter of doubting, or at least being open to reexamining what we know; being curious about what we don’t know and revising our thought process through the exploration of new input and evidence. If it sounds like the scientific method, you’re paying attention.
A good scientist benefits from a healthy skepticism regarding those theories that have become accepted as “fact.” He is always questioning the consensus of other scientists and making sure these opinions don’t cloud his judgment when pursuing new frontiers. This allows for new thoughts, ideas, and beliefs to be examined without preconceived outcomes diluting or even inhibiting the process.
In the first chapter, Grant introduces a philosophy developed by political scientist Phil Tetlock. Tetlock outlines three distinct roles people commonly play when interfacing with colleagues and peers, or even in our own internal dialog. These are that of preacher, prosecutor, and politician. The preacher is set on evangelizing specific ideas or concepts at the expense of anyone else’s opinion. He does not care to listen and believes in the absolute correctitude of his position. The prosecutor is set on assaulting the ideas and opinions of others. This is typically in an effort to stand victorious in an argument. The politician is more interested in gaining approval with little or no desire to pursue the truth. Each of these three positions limits one’s ability to find the truth by replacing that with a desire to be right, to defend a personal belief, or to increase one’s position in the mind and heart of another.
Grant submits there is an additional role that is much more effective in expanding the mind and discovering the truth. It is that of the scientist. This is where Grant’s concept of rethinking takes hold. A good scientist, and I qualify this as there are many scientists who fall into the first three roles, is first and foremost intent on discovery of truth, wherever that may lead. He establishes a hypothesis; he tests it through experimentation and constantly endeavors to uncover new truths that organically snowball into new discoveries. He realizes that changing his mind is not a sign of weakness, but rather a willingness to rethink not only the outcomes, but the entire process over and over again.
This fourth line of thinking is the concept that ties this entire volume together: a willingness to be open to all possibilities, to be able to invite critical questions and opinions without applying a rigid mindset to their efficacy. This is a skill that can benefit every critical thinker. In chapter 3, “The Joy of Being Wrong,” I found myself yearning to decouple my identity from my beliefs. In fact, I am enthralled with the idea of changing my identity to one of incredible wonder and curiosity. To take a position of constantly exploring my existence in search of truth and knowledge.
As I mentioned, this is a massive topic. I hope I have given you enough motivation to take a deeper dive. You won’t be disappointed.