Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know

By Adam Grant/Reviewed by Chris Wendel

Knowing where to look for the book “Think Again” by Adam Grant in my local bookstore presented me with a challenge: Which section of the store would I find it? Part business, part self-help, part science; this nebulous category likes to explore human behavior that we take for granted and then twist it a bit.

The author usually explains their complicated research before revealing a well-vetted “aha” revelation that challenges our prevailing thought process. Reading experiences can vary for any of us, but the formula works well for attracting broad audiences (and selling books).

Grant is definitely someone who seeks out human behavior that counters common beliefs. His previous book “Originals” explored ways non-conformists form the innovation that quickly puts them ahead of competitors.  In “Thinking Again,” Grant presents vetted tools for improving both individual achievement and addressing the gridlock of pressing political and social issues.

“Think Again” describes how each of us can know a small amount about something and believe inaccurately that we know more about that topic than the majority of the public. This accumulated “wisdom” creates a self-perceived edge in work or social interactions. While we believe this knowledge is power, it can also be deceiving. Armed with our rigid, long-held beliefs, we dig our heels in when challenged, retreating to those who agree with us rather than understanding the rationale of those who disagree with us.

Believing we know more than others, in general or on a particular subject, can produce dangerous blind spots, according to Grant. He uses interesting examples to drive his point home: Mike Lazaridis, the developer of the BlackBerry, failed to understand why people would want to type on their cell phones (instead of a keypad). Flawed processes leading up to the Challenger and Columbia U.S. Space Shuttle disasters demonstrated how engineers with an overabundance of knowledge cost lives.

Grant describes three modes we take on to protect our existing ideas and beliefs. In the Preacher mindset one adopts the role of an evangelist, complete with sermons to win people over and confirm our thoughts. In the Prosecutor mode we shift to an “I’m right, you’re wrong” mentality that likely ends up in a zero-sum end game with no change or progress. The Politician is more of a salesperson than a thinker, who lobbies and campaigns to simply win people rather than solve urgent issues.

Grant believes that the better approach is to act more like a scientist and “seek out information that goes against our views.” This puts us in a position to understand rather than argue and to learn rather than persuade. It also means that “agreeing to disagree” is not a long-term solution. Conceding being wrong now may be necessary for finding the truth and can temporarily shake one’s confidence, but through thoughtful discussions and debate, solutions and common ground can be found. This scientific process of working through challenges is a welcomed relief in this age of polarizing rhetoric.

“Think Again” keeps readers engaged with an entertaining writing style that combines anecdotes, diagrams, and examples throughout the book. As a teacher, writer, and behavioral psychologist, Grant is uniquely qualified to take a revised approach to both self-examination and conflict resolution.

I did find “Think Again” after asking for assistance from a kind person at the bookstore. If left to my own devices, it would have taken some time for me to locate the book. Fortunately, I was able to put aside my false confidence and listened to the expertise of someone who knew more than I did. I learned from reading “Think Again” that recognizing what we don’t know is a good first step.

Grant sums his approach up best: “…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.”

Chris Wendel is a Business Advisor with Northern Initiatives, a Community Development Financial institution (CDFI) based in Marquette, Mich. Northern Initiatives provides money and know-how to businesses throughout Michigan. Wendel lives and works in Traverse City and can be reached at cwendel@northerninitiatives.org

 

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