I’m a big fan of books in a category that might be best called Social Psychology. I am a fan of all three of Adam Grant’s books. His most recent book, last year’s Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, is full of valuable takeaways. I learned a lot from it, as I have from all of his books.
As Grant says in the book’s prologue, “This book is an invitation to let go of knowledge and opinions that are no longer serving you well…thinking again can help you generate new solutions to old problems and revisit old solutions to new problems…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.”
“We’re swift to recognize when other people need to think again,” Grant explains. “We question the judgment of experts whenever we seek out a second opinion on a medical diagnosis. Unfortunately, when it comes to our own knowledge and opinions, we often favor feeling right over being right…We need to develop the habit of forming our own second opinions.”
Grant reports something one of his colleagues discovered: “As we think and talk, we often slip into the mindsets of three different professions: preachers, prosecutors, and politicians. In each of these modes, we take on a particular identity and use a distinct set of tools. We go into preacher mode when our sacred beliefs are in jeopardy: we deliver sermons to protect and promote our ideals. We enter prosecutor mode when we recognize flaws in other people’s reasoning: we marshal arguments to prove them wrong and win our case. We shift into politician mode when we’re seeking to win over an audience: we campaign and lobby for the approval of our constituents. The risk is that we become so wrapped up in preaching that we are right, prosecuting others who are wrong, and politicking for support, that we don’t bother to rethink our own views.”
Instead, Grant suggests we put ourselves in the mode of a scientist. “If you’re a scientist by trade, rethinking is fundamental to your profession. You’re paid to be constantly aware of the limits of your understanding. You’re expected to doubt what you know, be curious about what you don’t know, and update your views based on new data.”
I am far from being able to say I am always able to stay curious—in the mode of a scientist—particularly when it comes to some of the social and political issues that have led to this deeply polarized environment we find ourselves in. People need to respect each other and be respectful of each other‘s views. People can disagree, and in many cases it’s a good thing if they do. For example, when you’re working together on a project, it is fine to disagree regarding how a task should be accomplished. That disagreement will lead to the best results. What you want to avoid is relationship conflict—something we see far too often these days.
Grant says, “…when I argue with someone, it’s not a display of disrespect—it’s a sign of respect. It means I value their views enough to contest them. If their opinion didn’t matter to me, I wouldn’t bother.” But, you have to be careful how you engage with others, and Grant gives some great suggestions.
I love learning by reading, a key part of how I live the fifth of my Six Simple Rules, “Be a Lifelong Learner”. And I’m happy to have once again made reading books a priority in my life, as I wrote about last year. I hope to take the learning from Grant’s book and live more often in the scientist mode.