Think Again: The power of knowing what you don't know

by Adam Grant


If you've read anything from Adam Grant, you can expect all of that and then some in Think Again. In another page turning intellectually invigorating journey, Adam challenges the audience to activate our rethinking skills and explore the power of knowing what we don’t know. Loaded with research, fascinating case studies from his students at Wharton, and real-world business examples Adam provides insight into bias, escalation of commitment, and contrarian methods of succeeding. - Nicholas Beaird

Favorite Quotes from Think Again

Part of the problem is cognitive laziness. Some psychologists point out that we’re mental misers: we often prefer the ease of hanging on to old views over the difficulty of grappling with new ones. Yet there are also deeper forces behind our resistance to rethinking. Questioning ourselves makes the world more unpredictable. It requires us to admit that the facts may have changed, that what was once right may now be wrong. Reconsidering something we believe deeply can threaten our identities, making it feel as if we’re losing a part of ourselves.

Progress is impossible without change; and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything. —george bernard shaw

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.

If knowledge is power, knowing what we don’t know is wisdom.

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 identity will endure.

I’ve found that confidence can make us complacent. If we never worry about letting other people down, we’re more likely to actually do so. When we feel like impostors, we think we have something to prove. Impostors may be the last to jump in, but they may also be the last to bail out.

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.

Arrogance leaves us blind to our weaknesses. Humility is a reflective lens: it helps us see them clearly. Confident humility is a corrective lens: it enables us to overcome those weaknesses

To unlock the joy of being wrong, we need to detach. I’ve learned that two kinds of detachment are especially useful: detaching your present from your past and detaching your opinions from your identity.

As Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio told me, “If you don’t look back at yourself and think, ‘Wow, how stupid I was a year ago,’ then you must not have learned much in the last year.”

On Seinfeld, George Costanza famously said, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.” I might add that it doesn’t become the truth just because you believe it. It’s a sign of wisdom to avoid believing every thought that enters your mind. It’s a mark of emotional intelligence to avoid internalizing every feeling that enters your heart.

People who are right a lot listen a lot, and they change their mind a lot,” Jeff Bezos says. “If you don’t change your mind frequently, you’re going to be wrong a lot.”

Yet research shows that how often parents argue has no bearing on their children’s academic, social, or emotional development. What matters is how respectfully parents argue, not how frequently. 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.

Agreeable people tend to be nice. Friendly. Polite. Canadian.*

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. They’re like the doctor in the show House or the boss in the film The Devil Wears Prada. They give the critical feedback we might not want to hear, but need to hear.

In one experiment, when people were criticized rather than praised by a partner, they were over four times more likely to request a new partner. Across a range of workplaces, when employees received tough feedback from colleagues, their default response was to avoid those coworkers or drop them from their networks altogether—and their performance suffered over the following year.

Ernest Hemingway once said, “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof sh*t detector.” My challenge network is my sh*t detector. I think of it as a good fight club. The first rule: avoiding an argument is bad manners. Silence disrespects the value of your views and our ability to have a civil disagreement.

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

That’s the beauty of task conflict. 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.

In a formal debate your goal is to change the mind of your audience. In an informal debate, you’re trying to change the mind of your conversation partner.

The more reasons we put on the table, the easier it is for people to discard the shakiest one. Once they reject one of our justifications, they can easily dismiss our entire case.

When we point out that there are areas where we agree and acknowledge that they have some valid points, we model confident humility and encourage them to follow suit. When we support our argument with a small number of cohesive, compelling reasons, we encourage them to start doubting their own opinion. And when we ask genuine questions, we leave them intrigued to learn more. We don’t have to convince them that we’re right—we just need to open their minds to the possibility that they might be wrong. Their natural curiosity might do the rest.

In a heated argument, you can always stop and ask, “What evidence would change your mind?” If the answer is “nothing,” then there’s no point in continuing the debate. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it think.

Research shows that in courtrooms, expert witnesses and deliberating jurors are more credible and more persuasive when they express moderate confidence, rather than high or low confidence.* And these principles aren’t limited to debates—they apply in a wide range of situations where we’re advocating for our beliefs or even for ourselves.

In one experiment, psychologists randomly assigned Manchester United soccer fans a short writing task. They then staged an emergency in which a passing runner slipped and fell, screaming in pain as he held his ankle. He was wearing the T-shirt of their biggest rival, and the question was whether they would stop to help him. If the soccer fans had just written about why they loved their team, only 30 percent helped. If they had written about what they had in common with other soccer fans, 70 percent helped.

In psychology, counterfactual thinking involves imagining how the circumstances of our lives could have unfolded differently. When we realize how easily we could have held different stereotypes, we might be more willing to update our views.* To activate counterfactual thinking, you might ask people questions like: How would your stereotypes be different if you’d been born Black, Hispanic, Asian, or Native American? What opinions would you hold if you’d been raised on a farm versus in a city, or in a culture on the other side of the world? What beliefs would you cling to if you lived in the 1700s?