Littler Books cover of Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know Summary

Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know Summary and Quotes

Adam Grant

4.6 minutes to read • Updated May 22, 2024

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Blending research and storytelling to help us build the intellectual and emotional skills needed to better ourselves and the world by staying curious.

Bullet Point Summary

  1. In 1949, smokejumpers parachuted into a Montana forest to contain a wildfire but soon had to flee for their lives. Their leader Wagner Dodge survived by improvising an escape fire to drain the wildfire's fuel in the area while most of his crew thought he was crazy and perished trying to outrun the flames. This tragedy highlights the importance of mental flexibility that is increasingly vital for success in our rapidly changing world.
  2. Know how to rethink and unlearn. Always doubt your convictions and be open to change your mind.
    1. “The purpose of learning isn't to affirm our beliefs; it's to evolve our beliefs.”
    2. Mike Lazaridis created the BlackBerry, which became hugely popular as a wireless communication device focused on email, but he failed to rethink and adapt it as the smartphone market evolved, leading to BlackBerry's precipitous decline. In contrast, Steve Jobs initially resisted making a smartphone but was persuaded by his engineers to rethink, resulting in the revolutionary iPhone which fueled Apple's massive success.
  3. Even constitutions have amendments.
  4. We tend to fall into four categories when communicating: preachers (push our own ideas), prosecutors (relentlessly argue to be correct), politicians (people pleasers), and scientists (embrace limits, are curious, learn by testing hypotheses, accept new truths). Be like a scientist.
  5. “If knowledge is power, knowing what we don't know is wisdom.”
  6. Study shows that what differentiated eminent scientists from their peers was their cognitive flexibility (willingness “to move from one extreme to the other as the occasion requires”).
  7. “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.”
  8. Imposter syndrome is the feeling that you are not as competent as others believe you to be.
    1. Halla Tómasdóttir, a businesswoman with no political experience, struggled with impostor syndrome when asked to run for president of Iceland. Embracing her doubts, Halla ran an open and positive campaign, connecting with voters. Though she didn't win, she vastly overperformed by receiving the second most votes (27.9%) despite lack of campaign budget and media coverage.
    2. Imposter syndrome can be beneficial, as it can motivate us to work harder and learn more.
  9. Overconfidence often stems from ignorance of our limitations, whereas modest doubts can motivate us to work harder, work smarter, and learn from others.
    1. Study shows that people who consider they know more than others significantly overestimated their own knowledge. (Dunning-Kruger effect)
    2. “Those who can't… don't know they can't.”
  10. “You can be confident in your ability to achieve a goal in the future while maintaining the humility to question whether you have the right tools in the present. That's the sweet spot of confidence.”
  11. Self-assurance without self-awareness breeds arrogance, but humility paired with confidence helps us recognize our blind spots, question assumptions, and continuously grow and learn.
  12. Detach your opinions from your identity, then you can more easily admit being wrong because your identity wouldn't be broken.
    1. Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, went from a professor to a domestic terrorist because he was so stubbornly attached to his opinions.
  13. “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.”
  14. Admitting mistakes and fixing them enhances our reputation rather than damaging it.
  15. “When you're wrong, it's not something to be depressed about. Say, ‘Hey, I discovered something.'”
  16. Constructive conflicts (task conflicts) can lead to better ideas and decisions. This is different from personal conflicts, which hinder progress.
    1. People who disagree readily can be valuable in prompting rethinking and challenging assumptions. However, they need to be managed to avoid tipping into personal conflict.
  17. Effective disagreement involves focusing on "how" things work rather than "why" we believe what we do. This reduces defensiveness and fosters curiosity about alternative viewpoints.
  18. Harish Natarajan, a world champion debater, faced off against Project Debater, an AI system built by IBM. Despite the computer's massive knowledge base, Harish is able to change more minds by finding common ground, asking the audience questions, and expressing some uncertainty. Unlike the computer's declarative statements, Harish's questions and humility engaged the audience in thinking for themselves.
  19. Use the collaborative approach when arguing: find common understanding, ask non-judgmental questions, and have flexible thinking. People are less receptive when you bully them with logic and facts.
  20. Treat disagreements as a dance rather than an adversarial war -- you have to be open-minded and willing to adapt your moves to get into rhythm with the other person.
  21. Daryl Davis met a KKK member at a gig who was surprised to see a black musician play so well. Over time, through ongoing dialogue, Daryl convinced him and many other white supremacists to denounce the KKK.
  22. Prejudiced and ignorant beliefs are completely arbitrary.
    1. Davis persuaded KKK members to denounce racism by getting them to see their racism as an accident of birth -- if born into another family, would they still hold such white supremacist beliefs?
    2. Rival baseball fans reduced their animosity when they considered how their allegiance was largely due to geographical chance.
  23. Motivational interviewing is an effective method to help someone rethink. It involves open-ended questions and reflective listening (acknowledging others' views and feelings) to help them find their own motivation to change. Don't force people with logic or lectures. Reflective listening demonstrates respect and building trust so people become receptive to evidence and arguments. By using this technique:
    1. An empathetic doctor was able to convince an anti-vaxxer to vaccinate all her children.
    2. Ugandan politician Betty Bigombe was able to convince brutal warlord Joseph Kony to engage in peace talks.
  24. “Listening is a way of offering others our scarcest, most precious gift: our attention. Once we've demonstrated that we care about them and their goals, they're more willing to listen to us.”
  25. Researchers have found that exposing people to a balanced perspective on one issue, presenting multiple viewpoints, makes them more open to finding common ground on other divisive issues.
    1. This suggests that showcasing the complexity around debated topics, rather than presenting two extreme black and white sides (e.g., oil is bad/good), can facilitate more constructive conversations.
    2. Individuals who participate in these complexified conversations become more curious and ask more questions, moving away from simply asserting their opinions.
  26. Studies show that when experts show doubt, they are more persuasive.
  27. Traditional education often emphasizes imparting knowledge and building confidence, but it doesn't encourage students to question themselves and others. There's a growing movement in education to encourage students to ask critical questions and consider different viewpoints.
    1. Students who are taught to question and rethink their knowledge are better prepared to learn and adapt throughout their lives.
  28. Active learning, where students engage with the material through discussions and activities, is more effective than passive learning (e.g., listening to lectures) in promoting deeper understanding and critical thinking.
  29. Organizations should move from a performance culture to a learning and growth culture, where people have the psychological safety to experiment and make mistakes.
    1. In performance cultures, employees fear punishment for failures, prompting them to hide their mistakes.
    2. NASA's Columbia disaster can be attributed to their performance culture, where past successes and overconfidence left little room for doubting or reassessing potentially risky decisions.
  30. We often form rigid ideas about careers and life paths, creating an identity foreclosure, prematurely settling on a sense of self and closing ourselves off to alternative opportunities.
    1. Regularly rethinking our goals and aspirations (career checkups) is crucial for personal growth and avoiding unnecessary sacrifices.
    2. Happiness often stems from contributing to something meaningful and pursuing mastery, rather than directly seeking it.
  31. We can find purpose and satisfaction by actively shaping our roles and responsibilities to fit our values and interests within our existing circumstances (job crafting).
    1. Candice Walker, a hospital custodian, happily went beyond her official duties to console patients, make them laugh, and even save lives during medical emergencies.
  32. Rethinking is an ongoing process and not a one-time event.
    1. Leaders who are willing to admit uncertainty and change their minds can be more effective than those who present themselves as having all the answers.

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