Think again: the power of knowing what you don't know

by Adam Grant

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The book is divided into 3 parts, covering the value of rethinking, how to help others rethink, and how to help communities rethink.

the value of rethinking permalink

Who you are should be a question of what you value, not what you believe.

When people change their answers on a test, they’re far more likely to change to the right answer than a wrong answer. Rethinking is effective!

helping others rethink permalink

Good families allow for healthy conflict, rather than avoiding it. Orville and Wilbur Wright fought a lot but it wasn’t relational conflict, it was task conflict. Having a good relationship with colleagues is important because it’s what keeps task conflict from bleeding into relational conflict. You need a network of people who will disagree with you. Silence disrespects the value of your views, and our ability to have civil disagreement.

Exhausting someone in argument is not the same as convincing them.

Never start a fight unless you want to be the only one standing at the end.

In informal debate, the target is the conversation partner, not the audience. Don’t try too hard to lead, make it a dance where you accommodate to each other. Good negotiators find points of agreement, and focus on a few good reasons (a weak argument weakens the strong one). Don’t make it about offense or defense; express curiosity. Be willing to revise our views, so we’re not hypocrites in our request for them to revise. Give them credit. Don’t come out too strong.

People receptive to your message like to see quantity of arguments, but someone who’s more skeptical doesn’t like lots of reasons.

Ask lots of opening questions for people to consider. It primes people to start rethinking. “What would open your minds to my data?”

Discussing your own feelings about the conversation is a good sidestep when things become combative.

Acknowledge weaknesses first, then focus on strengths.

helping the community rethink permalink

Counterfactual thinking is great. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Talking in-person helps remove prejudices. Reversing the argument will give someone just the push they needed to start their own rethinking.

Avoid binary bias: it’s important to recognize the spectrum, instead of categorizing people into believers and skeptics/deniers. “Skeptics” is a bad term for non-believers. This happened with climate change after Al Gore’s documentary, and it happened again with COVID.

Experts are more believable if they express doubt or nuance. People stay interested but end up more open-minded if articles convey nuance.

Idea cults develop everywhere!

Leaving out the emotion is actually not better. People trust each other more if they understand their emotional motivation.

People’s beliefs are harder to change as they get older, so we need to give kids many opportunities to experience challenges and changes of their opinions while they’re young.

Be vulnerable and ask people why they think what they think.

In organizations: Study processes instead of outcomes. If the process was good but the outcome was bad, you’ve run a good experiment. Push for a learning culture. Vulnerability in management means talking about how you’re trying to grow and criticism you’ve received. “Psychological safety” is the term.

conclusion permalink

We all over-commit to the plans when we start to see problems. Instead we should rethink.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Is a bad question. Some kids dream too small, some too big. Work is what you do, not who you are. Introduce kids to “doing” science rather than “being” a scientist.

Don’t foreclose on life plans! Don’t “stay on track”. Allow yourself to evolve. Being super sure about your plans at 20 will lead to regrets by 30. When did you form the aspirations you’re currently chasing? How have you changed since then? What are you learning at your job? Have a career checkup. Deciding to leave a current career path is easier than finding a new one.

The more people value happiness, the less happy people are. We spend too much time seeking peak happiness. Meaning is healthier than joy. Western ideas of individual happiness are lonely.

Don’t try to exit the community you’re in if you’re unsatisfied. Build a micro-community of the people you like, maybe through organizing coffee talks (or hosting a podcast?).

The author has a discussion guide on his website that summarizes the book into some concrete advice in the form of questions.