Think Again (2021) explores the psychology of rethinking; the importance of open-mindedness and how to get better at it. In the book, readers will find a multitude of stories, scientific research as well as witty illustrations to help cultivate what the author describes as a ‘critical nutrient for the mind: intellectual humility.’

Having written two best sellers ‘Originals’ and ‘Give and Take’ –the author Adam Grant is an organizational psychologist who is currently a Professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

adam grant think again summary

Adam Grant “Think Again” Summary

 

Book Notes.

“Imagine that you’ve just finished taking a multiple-choice test, and you start to second-guess one of your answers. You have some extra time—should you stick with your first instinct or change it?”

“About three quarters of students are convinced that revising their answer will hurt their score. Kaplan, the big test-prep company, once warned students to “exercise great caution if you decide to change an answer. Experience indicates that many students who change answers change to the wrong answer.””

“With all due respect to the lessons of experience, I prefer the rigor of evidence. When a trio of psychologists conducted a comprehensive review of thirty-three studies, they found that in every one, the majority of answer revisions were from wrong to right. This phenomenon is known as the first-instinct fallacy.”

“In one demonstration, psychologists counted eraser marks on the exams of more than 1,500 students in Illinois. Only a quarter of the changes were from right to wrong, while half were from wrong to right. I’ve seen it in my own classroom year after year: my students’ final exams have surprisingly few eraser marks, but those who do rethink their first answers rather than staying anchored to them end up improving their scores.”

“Of course, it’s possible that second answers aren’t inherently better; they’re only better because students are generally so reluctant to switch that they only make changes when they’re fairly confident. But recent studies point to a different explanation: it’s not so much changing your answer that improves your score as considering whether you should change it.”

“We don’t just hesitate to rethink our answers. We hesitate at the very idea of rethinking. Take an experiment where hundreds of college students were randomly assigned to learn about the first-instinct fallacy. The speaker taught them about the value of changing their minds and gave them advice about when it made sense to do so. On their next two tests, they still weren’t any more likely to revise their answers.”

“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.”

think again summary

PART I: INDIVIDUAL RETHINKING

“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.”

“But being a scientist is not just a profession. It’s a frame of mind —a mode of thinking that differs from preaching, prosecuting, and politicking. We move into scientist mode when we’re searching for the truth: we run experiments to test hypotheses and discover knowledge.”

“Scientific tools aren’t reserved for people with white coats and beakers, and using them doesn’t require toiling away for years with a microscope and a petri dish. Hypotheses have as much of a place in our lives as they do in the lab. Experiments can inform our daily decisions. That makes me wonder: is it possible to train people in other fields to think more like scientists, and if so, do they end up making smarter choices?”

“Recently, a quartet of European researchers decided to find out. They ran a bold experiment with more than a hundred founders of Italian startups in technology, retail, furniture, food, health care, leisure, and machinery.”

“Most of the founders’ businesses had yet to bring in any revenue, making it an ideal setting to investigate how teaching scientific thinking would influence the bottom line.”

“The entrepreneurs arrived in Milan for a training program in entrepreneurship. Over the course of four months, they learned to create a business strategy, interview customers, build a minimum viable product, and then refine a prototype.”

“What they didn’t know was that they’d been randomly assigned to either a “scientific thinking” group or a control group. The training for both groups was identical, except that one was encouraged to view startups through a scientist’s goggles.”

“Over the following year, the startups in the control group averaged under $300 in revenue. The startups in the scientific thinking group averaged over $12,000 in revenue. They brought in revenue more than twice as fast—and attracted customers sooner, too.”

“Why? The entrepreneurs in the control group tended to stay wedded to their original strategies and products. It was too easy to preach the virtues of their past decisions, prosecute the vices of alternative options, and politick by catering to advisers who favored the existing direction.”

“The entrepreneurs who had been taught to think like scientists, in contrast, pivoted more than twice as often. When their hypotheses weren’t supported, they knew it was time to rethink their business models.”

“What’s surprising about these results is that we typically celebrate great entrepreneurs and leaders for being strong-minded and clear-sighted. They’re supposed to be paragons of conviction: decisive and certain. Yet evidence reveals that when business executives compete in tournaments to price products, the best strategists are actually slow and unsure. Like careful scientists, they take their time so they have the flexibility to change their minds.”

***

“When psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi studied eminent scientists like Linus Pauling and Jonas Salk, he concluded that what differentiated them from their peers was their cognitive flexibility, their willingness “to move from one extreme to the other as the occasion requires.” The same pattern held for great artists, and in an independent study of highly creative architects.”

“We can even see it in the Oval Office. Experts assessed American presidents on a long list of personality traits and compared them to rankings by independent historians and political scientists. Only one trait consistently predicted presidential greatness after controlling for factors like years in office, wars, and scandals. It wasn’t whether presidents were ambitious or forceful, friendly or Machiavellian; it wasn’t whether they were attractive, witty, poised, or polished.”

“What set great presidents apart was their intellectual curiosity and openness. They read widely and were as eager to learn about developments in biology, philosophy, architecture, and music as in domestic and foreign affairs. They were interested in hearing new views and revising their old ones. They saw many of their policies as experiments to run, not points to score.”

***

“According to what’s now known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, it’s when we lack competence that we’re most likely to be brimming with overconfidence.”

“In the original Dunning-Kruger studies, people who scored the lowest on tests of logical reasoning, grammar, and sense of humor had the most inflated opinions of their skills. On average, they believed they did better than 62 percent of their peers, but in reality outperformed only 12 percent of them.”

“The less intelligent we are in a particular domain, the more we seem to overestimate our actual intelligence in that domain. In a group of football fans, the one who knows the least is the most likely to be the armchair quarterback, prosecuting the coach for calling the wrong play and preaching about a better playbook.”

“Absolute beginners rarely fall into the Dunning-Kruger trap. If you don’t know a thing about football, you probably don’t walk around believing you know more than the coach.”

“It’s when we progress from novice to amateur that we become overconfident. A bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. In too many domains of our lives, we never gain enough expertise to question our opinions or discover what we don’t know.”

“We have just enough information to feel self-assured about making pronouncements and passing judgment, failing to realize that we’ve climbed to the top of Mount Stupid without making it over to the other side.”

“…a crucial nutrient for the mind: humility. The antidote to getting stuck on Mount Stupid is taking a regular dose of it.”

“…blogger Tim Urban explains. “While humility is a permeable filter that absorbs life experience and converts it into knowledge and wisdom, arrogance is a rubber shield that life experience simply bounces off of.””

“Humility is often misunderstood. It’s not a matter of having low self-confidence. One of the Latin roots of humility means “from the earth.” It’s about being grounded—recognizing that we’re flawed and fallible.”

“Confident humility can be taught. In one experiment, when students read a short article about the benefits of admitting what we don’t know rather than being certain about it, their odds of seeking extra help in an area of weakness spiked from 65 to 85 percent. They were also more likely to explore opposing political views to try to learn from the other side.”

***

“Not long ago I gave a speech at a conference about my research on givers, takers, and matchers. I was studying whether generous, selfish, or fair people were more productive in jobs like sales and engineering.”

“One of the attendees was Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize–winning psychologist who has spent much of his career demonstrating how flawed our intuitions are. He told me afterward that he was surprised by my finding that givers had higher rates of failure than takers and matchers—but higher rates of success, too.”

“When you read a study that surprises you, how do you react? Many people would get defensive, searching for flaws in the study’s design or the statistical analysis. Danny did the opposite. His eyes lit up, and a huge grin appeared on his face. “That was wonderful,” he said. “I was wrong.””

“Later, I sat down with Danny for lunch and asked him about his reaction. It looked a lot to me like the joy of being wrong—his eyes twinkled as if he was having fun. He said that in his eighty-five years, no one had pointed that out before, but yes, he genuinely enjoys discovering that he was wrong, because it means he is now less wrong than before.”

“Danny isn’t interested in preaching, prosecuting, or politicking. He’s a scientist devoted to the truth. When I asked him how he stays in that mode, he said he refuses to let his beliefs become part of his identity. “I change my mind at a speed that drives my collaborators crazy,” he explained. “My attachment to my ideas is provisional. There’s no unconditional love for them.””

“Attachment. That’s what keeps us from recognizing when our opinions are off the mark and rethinking them. 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.”

“Let’s start with detaching your present from your past. In psychology, one way of measuring the similarity between the person you are right now and your former self is to ask: which pair of circles best describes how you see yourself?”

adam grant think again book summary

“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.”

“In one study, when people felt detached from their past selves, they became less depressed over the course of the year. When you feel as if your life is changing direction, and you’re in the process of shifting who you are, it’s easier to walk away from foolish beliefs you once held.”

“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.””

“The second kind of detachment is separating your opinions from your identity. I’m guessing you wouldn’t want to see a doctor whose identity is Professional Lobotomist, send your kids to a teacher whose identity is Corporal Punisher, or live in a town where the police chief’s identity is Stop-and-Frisker.”

“Most of us are accustomed to defining ourselves in terms of our beliefs, ideas, and ideologies. This can become a problem when it prevents us from changing our minds as the world changes and knowledge evolves. Our opinions can become so sacred that we grow hostile to the mere thought of being wrong, and the totalitarian ego leaps in to silence counterarguments, squash contrary evidence, and close the door on learning.”

“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 identity on these kinds of principles enables you to remain open-minded about the best ways to advance them.”

“You want the doctor whose identity is protecting health, the teacher whose identity is helping students learn, and the police chief whose identity is promoting safety and justice. When they define themselves by values rather than opinions, they buy themselves the flexibility to update their practices in light of new evidence.”

***

“If being wrong repeatedly leads us to the right answer, the experience of being wrong itself can become joyful.”

“Psychologists find that admitting we were wrong doesn’t make us look less competent. It’s a display of honesty and a willingness to learn. Although scientists believe it will damage their reputation to admit that their studies failed to replicate, the reverse is true: they’re judged more favorably if they acknowledge the new data rather than deny them.”

“When we find out we might be wrong, a standard defense is “I’m entitled to my opinion.” I’d like to modify that: yes, we’re entitled to hold opinions inside our own heads. If we choose to express them out loud, though, I think it’s our responsibility to ground them in logic and facts, share our reasoning with others, and change our minds when better evidence emerges.”

“This philosophy takes us back to the Harvard students who had their worldviews attacked in that unethical study by Henry Murray. They saw challenges to their opinions as an exciting opportunity to develop and evolve their thinking.”

“The students who found it stressful didn’t know how to detach. Their opinions were their identities. An assault on their worldviews was a threat to their very sense of self. Their inner dictator rushed in to protect them.”

“Every time we encounter new information, we have a choice. We can attach our opinions to our identities and stand our ground in the stubbornness of preaching and prosecuting. Or we can operate more like scientists, defining ourselves as people committed to the pursuit of truth—even if it means proving our own views wrong.”

 “You must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.” – Richard Feynman

***

PART II: INTERPERSONAL RETHINKING
PART III: COLLECTIVE RETHINKING

_____

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