favorites from think again [adam grant].

it’s been a while since i shared favorite lines / passages from something i’ve read, but adam grant’s latest book think again has my head swirling with so many thoughts and i decided i would like to share them on here in case they resonate with any of you.

adam grant is an organizational psychologist, an author, a professor, and a podcast host, and i am such a big fan of his. he seems to write exactly what i need to read at that given moment, and his podcast regularly gives me extra things to think about.

i read think again almost as soon as i acquired it, and i savored every word. below are the parts of the book that stood out most to me.

i want everyone to read this. memphis, tennessee. april 2021.

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. [2]

we don’t just hesitate to rethink our answers. we hesitate at the very idea of rethinking. [3]

we listen to views that make us feel good, instead of ideas that make us think hard. [4]

once we hear the story and accept it as true, we rarely bother to question it. [4]

a hallmark of wisdom is knowing when it’s time to abandon some of your most treasured tools – and some of the most cherished parts of your identity. [12]

we need to develop the habit of forming our own second opinions. [18]

mental horsepower doesn’t guarantee mental dexterity. no matter how much brainpower you have, if you lack the motivation to change your mind, you’ll miss many occasions to think again. research reveals that the higher you score on an iq test, the more likely you are to fall for stereotypes, because you’re faster at recognizing patterns. and recent experiments suggest that the smarter you are, the more you might struggle to update your beliefs. [24]

thinking like a scientist involves more than just reacting with an open mind. it means being actively open-minded. it requires searching for reasons why we might be wrong – not for reasons why we must be right – and revising our views based on what we learn. [25]

the purpose of learning isn’t to affirm our beliefs; it’s to evolve our beliefs. [26]

if knowledge is power, knowing what we don’t know is wisdom. [28]

scientific thinking favors humility over pride, doubt over certainty, curiosity over closure. when we shift out of scientist mode, the rethinking cycle breaks down, giving way to an overconfidence cycle. [28]

research shows that when people are resistant to change, it helps to reinforce what will stay the same. visions for change are more compelling when they include visions of continuity. although our strategy might evolve, our identify will endure. [31]

according to what’s now known as the dunning-kruger effect, it’s when we lack competence that we’re more likely to be brimming with overconfidence. [38]

when we lack the knowledge and skills to achieve excellence, we sometimes lack the knowledge and skills to judge excellence. [43]

we tend to overestimate ourselves on desirable skills, like the ability to carry on a riveting conversation. we’re also prone to overconfidence in situations where it’s easy to confuse experience for expertise, like driving, typing, trivia, and managing emotions. [43]

humility is often misunderstood. it’s not a matter of having low self-confidence. it’s about being grounded – recognizing that we’re flawed and fallible. [46]

when adults have the confidence to acknowledge what they don’t know, they pay more attention to how strong evidence is and spend more time reading material that contradicts their opinions. [48]

the first upside to feeling like an impostor is that it can motivate us to work harder. [51] second, impostor thoughts can motivate us to work smarter. third, feeling like an impostor can make us better learners. [52]

great thinkers don’t harbor doubts because they’re impostors. they maintain doubts because they know we’re all partially blind and they’re committed to improving their sight. they don’t boast about how much they know; they marvel at how little they understand. they’re aware that 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. [54]

discovering i was wrong felt joyful because it meant i’d learned something. [62]

in the moment, separating your past self from your current self can be unsettling. even positive changes can lead to negative emotions; evolving your identity can leave you feeling derailed and disconnected. over time, though, rethinking who you are appears to become mentally healthy – as long as you can tell a coherent story about how you got from past to present you. [63]

who you are should be a question of what you value, not what you believe. values are your core principles in life – they might be excellence and generosity, freedom and fairness, or security and integrity. basing your identify on these kinds of principles enables you to remain open-minded about the best ways to advance them. [64]

if we’re insecure, we make fun of others. if we’re comfortable being wrong, we’re not afraid to poke fun at ourselves. laughing at ourselves reminds us that although we might take our decisions seriously, we don’t have to take ourselves too seriously. research suggests that the more frequently we make fun of ourselves, the happier we tend to be. instead of beating ourselves up about our mistakes, we can turn some of our past misconceptions into sources of present amusement. [72]

when you form an opinion, ask yourself what would have to happen to prove it false. [73]

yes, we’re entitled to hold opinions inside our own heads. if we choose to express them out loud, though, i think that’s our responsibility to ground them in logic and facts, share our reasoning with others, and change our minds when better evidence emerges. [74]

relationship conflict is generally bad for performance, but some task conflict can be beneficial: it’s been linked to higher creativity and smarter choices. [80]

‘the absence of conflict is not harmony; it’s apathy.’ [80]

relationship conflict is destructive in part because it stands in the way of rethinking. when a clash gets personal and emotional, we become self-righteous preachers of our own views, spiteful prosecutors of the other side, or single-minded politicians who dismiss opinions that don’t come from our side. task conflict can be constructive when it brings diversity of thought, preventing us from getting trapped in overconfidence cycles. it can help us stay humble, surface doubts, and make us curious about what we might be missing. that can lead us to think again, moving us closer to the truth without damaging our relationships. [80]

kids whose parents clash constructively feel more emotionally safe in elementary school, and over the next few years they actually demonstrate more helpfulness and compassion toward their classmates. [80]

the ideal members of a challenge network are disagreeable, because they’re fearless about questioning the way things have always been done and holding us accountable for thinking again. there’s evidence that disagreeable people speak up more frequently – especially when leaders aren’t receptive – and foster more task conflict. [83]

i’ve watched too many leaders shield themselves from task conflict. as they gain power, they tune out boat-rockers and listen to bootlickers. [85]

we learn more from people who challenge our thought process than those who affirm our conclusions. strong leaders engage their critics and make themselves stronger. weak leaders silence their critics and make themselves weaker. this reaction isn’t limited to people in power. although we might be on board with the principle, in practice we often miss out on the value of a challenge network. [86]

i’m looking for disagreeable people who are givers, not takers. disagreeable givers often make the best critics: their intent is to elevate the work, not feed their own egos. they don’t criticize because they’re insecure; they challenge because they care. they dish out tough love. [87]

it’s surprisingly easy to hear a hard truth when it comes from someone who believes in your potential and cares about your success. [87]

it’s common for people who lack power or status to shift into politician mode, suppressing their dissenting views in favor of conforming to the hippo – the highest paid person’s opinion. [88]

tension is intellectual, not emotional. [88]

it’s possible to disagree without being disagreeable. [89]

agreeable people don’t always steer clear of conflict. they’re highly attuned to the people around them and often adapt to the norms in the room. my favorite demonstration is an experiment by my colleagues jennifer chatman and sigal barsade. agreeable people were significantly more accommodating than disagreeable ones – as long as they were in a cooperative team. when they were assigned to a competitive team, they acted just as disagreeably as their disagreeable teammates. [89]

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. [91-2]

when we argue about why, we run the risk of becoming emotionally attached to our positions and dismissive of the other side’s. we’re more likely to have a good fight if we argue about how. [92]

in a great argument, our adversary is not a foil, but a propeller. with twin propellers spinning in divergent directions, our thinking doesn’t get stuck on the ground; it takes flight. [93]

changing your mind doesn’t make you a flip-flopper or a hypocrite. it means you were open to learning. [102]

‘if you have too many arguments, you’ll dilute the power of each and every one.’ [110]

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. [112]

there’s evidence that people are more interested in hiring candidates who acknowledge legitimate weaknesses as opposed to bragging or humblebragging. [118-9]

as stereotypes stick and prejudice deepens, we don’t just identify with our own group; we disidentify with our adversaries, coming to define who we are by what we’re not. we don’t just preach the virtues of our side; we find self-worth in prosecuting the vices of our rivals. [124]

as a general rule, it’s those with greater power who need to do more of the rethinking, both because they’re more likely to privilege their own perspectives and because their perspectives are more likely to go unquestioned. in most cases, the oppressed and marginalized have already done a great deal of contortion to fit in. [140]

motivational interviewing: the central premise is that we can rarely motivate someone else to change. we’re better off helping them find their own motivation to change. [146]

sustain talk is commentary about maintaining the status quo. change talk is referencing a desire, ability, need, or commitment to make adjustments. [152]

a good guide doesn’t stop at helping people change their beliefs or behaviors. our work isn’t done until we’ve helped them accomplish their goals. [153]

listening well is more than a matter of talking less. it’s a set of skills in asking and responding. it starts with showing more interest in other people’s interests rather than trying to judge their status or prove our own. [156]

many communicators try to make themselves look smart. great listeners are more interested in making their audiences feel smart. [158]

the power of listening doesn’t lie just in giving people the space to reflect on their views. it’s a display of respect and an expression of care. [159]

listening is a way of offering others our scarcest, most precious gift: our attention. [159]

when we succeed in changing someone’s mind, we shouldn’t only ask whether we’re proud of what we’ve achieved. we should also ask whether we’re proud of how we’ve achieved it. [160]

binary bias: it’s a basic human tendency to seek clarity and closure by simplifying a complex continuum into two categories. [165]

we might believe we’re making progress by discussing hot-button issues as two sides of a coin, but people are actually more inclined to think again if we present these topics through the many lenses of a prism. to borrow a phrase from walt whitman, it takes a multitude of views to help people realize that they too contain multitudes. [165]

resisting the impulse to simplify is a step toward becoming more argument literate. doing so has profound implications for how we communicate about polarizing issues. [166]

a fundamental lesson of desirability bias is that our beliefs are shaped by our motivations. what we believe depends on what we want to believe. [168]

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 favor content and sources that present many sides of an issue rather than just one or two. when we come across simplifying headlines, we can fight our tendency to accept binaries by asking what additional perspectives are missing between the extremes. [171]

when someone knowledgeable admits uncertainty, it surprises people, and they end up paying more attention to the substance of the argument. [171]

featuring shades of gray in discussions of solutions can help to shift attention from why climate change is a problem to how we can do something about it. [173]

new research reveals that people are more likely to promote diversity and inclusion when the message is more nuanced (and more accurate): ‘diversity is good, but it isn’t easy.’ acknowledging complexity doesn’t make speakers and writers less convincing; it makes them more credible. it doesn’t lose viewers and readers; it maintains their engagement while stoking their curiosity. [174]

appreciating complexity reminds us that no behavior is always effective and that all cures have unintended consequences. [177]

the greater the distance between us and an adversary, the more likely we are to oversimplify their actual motives and invent explanations that stray far from their reality. [178]

lectures aren’t designed to accommodate dialogue or disagreement; they turn students into passive receivers of information rather than active thinkers. [192]

it turns out that although perfectionists are more likely than their peers to ace school, they don’t perform any better than their colleagues at work. this tracks with evidence that, across a wide range of industries, grades are not a strong predictor of job performance. [195]

this practice can extend far beyond the classroom. as we approach any life transition – whether it’s a first job, a second marriage, or a third child – we can pause to ask people what they wish they’d known before they went through that experience. once we’re on the other side of it, we can share what we ourselves should have rethought. [197]

whomever we’re educating, we can express more humility, exude more curiosity, and introduce the children in our lives to the infectious joy of discovery. [203]

i believe that good teachers introduce new thoughts, but great teachers introduce new ways of thinking. collecting a teacher’s knowledge may help us solve the challenges of the day, but understanding how a teacher thinks can help us navigate the challenges of a lifetime. ultimately, education is more than the information we accumulate in our heads. it’s the habits we develop as we keep revising our drafts and the skills we build to keep learning. [203]

rethinking is not just an individual skill. it’s a collective capability, and it depends heavily on an organization’s culture. [207]

rethinking is more likely to happen in a learning culture, where growth is the core value and rethinking cycles are routine. in learning cultures, the norm is for people to know what they don’t know, doubt their existing practices, and stay curious about new routines to try out. evidence shows that in learning cultures, organizations innovate more and make fewer mistakes. [208]

psychologically safe teams reported more errors, but they actually made fewer errors. by freely admitting their mistakes, they were then able to learn what had caused them and eliminate them moving forward. in psychologically unsafe teams, people hid their mishaps to avoid penalties, which made it difficult for anyone to diagnose the root causes and prevent future problems. they kept repeating the same mistakes. [209]

in performance cultures, the emphasis on results often undermines psychological safety. when we see people get punished for failures and mistakes, we become worried about proving our competence and protecting our careers. we learn to engage in self-limiting behavior, biting our tongues rather than voicing questions and concern. sometimes that’s due to power distance: we’re afraid of challenging the big boss at the top. the pressure to conform to authority is real, and those who dare to deviate run the risk of backlash. in performance cultures, we also censor ourselves in the presence of experts who seem to know all the answers – especially if we lack confidence in our expertise. [209]

how do you know? it’s a question we need to ask more often, both of ourselves and of others. [211]

the existing evidence on creating psychological safety gave us some starting points. i knew that changing the culture of an entire organization is daunting, while changing the culture of a team is more feasible. it starts with modeling the values we want to promote, identifying and praising others who exemplify them, and building a coalition of colleagues who are committed to making the change. [212]

it takes confident humility to admit that we’re a work in progress. it shows that we care more about improving ourselves than proving ourselves. [215]

amy edmondson finds that when psychological safety exists without accountability, people tend to stay within their comfort zone, and when there’s accountability but not safety, people tend to stay silent in an anxiety zone. when we combine the two, we create a learning zone. people feel free to experiment – and to poke holes in one another’s experiments in service of making them better. they become a challenge network. [217-8]

we all have notions of who we want to be and how we hope to lead our lives. they’re not limited to careers; from an early age, we develop ideas about where we’ll live, which school we’ll attend, what kind of person we’ll marry, and how many kids we’ll have. these images can inspire us to set bolder goals and guide us toward a path to achieve them. the danger of these plans is that they can give us tunnel vision, blinding us to alternative possibilities. we don’t know how time and circumstances will change what we want and even who we want to be, and locking our life gps onto a single target can give us the right directions to the wrong destination. [228-9]

there’s a fine line between a heroic persistence and foolish stubbornness. sometimes the best kind of grit is gritting our teeth and turning around. [229]

even if kids get excited about a career path that does prove realistic, what they thought was their dream job can turn out to be a nightmare. kids might be better off learning about careers as actions to take rather than as identities to claim. when they see work as what they do rather than who they are, they become more open to exploring different possibilities. [230]

although i study work for a living, i don’t think it should define us. [230]

for the record, i think it’s better to lose the past two years of progress than to waste the next twenty. [233]

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 your workplace, and is it time to consider a pivot? [234]

deciding to leave a current career path is often easier than identifying a new one. [235]

a first step is to entertain possible selves: identify some people you admire within or outside your field, and observe what they actually do at work day by day. a second step is to develop hypotheses about how these paths might align with your own interests, skills, and values. a third step is to test our the different identities by running experiments: do informational interviews, job shadowing, and sample projects to get a taste of the work. [235]

a successful relationship requires regular rethinking. [236]

when we’re willing to update our ideas of who our partners are, it can give them freedom to evolve and our relationships room to grow. [236]

whether we do checkups with our partners, our parents, or our mentors, it’s wroth pausing once or twice a year to reflect on how our aspirations have changed. as we identify past images of our lives that are no longer relevant to our future, we can start to rethink our plans. that can set us up for happiness – as long as we’re not too fixated on finding it. [237]

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. [240]

our identities are open systems, and so are our lives. we don’t have to stay tethered to old images of where we want to go or who we want to be. the simplest way to start rethinking our options is to question what we do daily. [243]

it takes humility to reconsider our past commitments, doubt to question our present decisions, and curiosity to reimagine our future plans. what we discover along the way can free us from the shackles of our familiar surroundings and our former selves. rethinking liberates us to do more than update our knowledge and opinions – it’s a tool for leading a more fulfilling life. [243]

i promise this is a book worth reading, and i would love to hear your thoughts if you have already done so!

xx

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