Reading Notes - Think Again

Think Again: the Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know
by Adam Grant

Think Again covers the topic of reviewing our beliefs; the process of re-thinking. Not to suggest that we have to continuously question decisions we already took, but to schedule periodic check-up to verify if our beliefs are still valid.
In a fast changing society, we cannot stand still on beliefs that may have been obsoleted by technical or social transformation.

Another angle, is about the importance of being wrong. Embracing being wrong as the act to learn something new.

This book doesn’t offer a solution, a magic step-by-step process. It covers a series of examples and topics to explain why re-thinking is as important as the initial thinking process. It’s a fast book, that want to cover a lot of ground offering an overview of some very interesting topic. You may find yourselves interested in some of these topics, looking for additional information, the index and the notes at the end of the book have a lot of references that will guide you in a immersion in these topics.

Overall it is a good read based on a solid research.

PART ONE # Individual rethinking

Chapter 1 # Change

We live in a rapidly changing world, where we need to spend as much time rethinking as we do thinking. This may results in past decisions that are not anymore the right decisions in the new, changed, situation. We need to develop the habit to form our own second opinion. Taking decisions based on facts and data, not feelings. It seems obvious, but it is increasingly difficult as you grow more confident in your capabilities.

Preachers, Prosecutors, and Politicians

The risk is that we became 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.

The alternative to the (Preachers —> Prosecutors —> Politicians) loop is to be a scientist. Being a scientist is not just a profession but a frame of mind.

Biases

A couple of biases are in place when we analyze data about ideological issues:

  • Confirmation bias: seeing what we expect to see
  • Desirability bias: seeing what we want to see

Thinking and learning

Being good at thinking can make you worse at rethinking. The purpose of learning isn’t to affirm our beliefs; it is to evolve our beliefs. If knowledge is power, knowing what we don’t know is wisdom.

Chapter 2 # Two syndromes

  • Armchair quarterback = confidence exceeds competence
  • Impostor syndrome = competence exceeds confidence

DUNNING - KRUGGER effect

A lack of competence drives overconfidence. The less intelligent we are in a particular domain, the more we seem to overestimate our actual intelligence in that domain. 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 fell self-assured about making pronouncements and passing judgement, failing to realize that we’ve climbed the top of Mount Stupid without making it over to the other side.

Confident humility

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. Impostor syndrome has three benefits:

  • Feeling like an impostor can motivate us to work harder
  • Impostor thoughts can motivate as to work smarter
  • Feeling like an impostor can make us better learners

On the importance to being wrong

Learning requires the humility to realize one has something to learn — Krumrei Mancuso

Chapter 3 # The Joy of Being Wrong

We are all wrong more often than we would like to admit. The more we deny it, the bigger the problem we are creating to ourselves.

An idea survives not because it is true, but because it is interesting

Being wrong is the only way to feel sure you have learned something. Two kind of detachments are especially important:

  • Detaching your present from your past
  • Separating your opinions from your identity Basing your opinions on values and principles instead that on beliefs, allows to have the flexibility to update our practices and advance our core principles of life.

There’s no benefit in being wrong for longer, it is much better to change your beliefs sooner: I consider all my opinions tentative. When the facts change, I change my opinions.

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

Will Smith: “Taking responsibility is taking your power back.”

If we choose to express our opinions out loud, it is our responsibility to ground them in logic and facts, share our reasoning with others and change our minds when better evidence emerges.

Chapter 4 # The Psychology of constructive conflict

Two kind of conflicts:

  • Task Conflicts —> clash about ideas and opinions
  • Relationship Conflicts —> personal, emotional clashes that are filled with animosity

Relationship Conflicts are usually bad for performance, but some task conflicts can be beneficial: they are linked to higher creativity and smarter choices. The absence of conflict it is not harmony, it is apathy. A task conflict can be constructive when it brings diversity of thoughts. It can help us to stay humble, surface doubts, and make us curious about what we may be missing. That can lead us to think again, moving us closer to the truth without damaging our relationship.

The key is to build trust and be able to have intense task conflicts without relationship conflicts

PART TWO # Interpersonal rethinking

Chapter 5 # How to win debates and influence people

Expert negotiators try to “dance” with their opponents following a few key points:

  1. Prior to negotiations, experts devote more than a third of their planning to find common ground.
  2. Experts presented fewer reasons to support their case to not water down their best arguments.
  3. Skilled negotiators avoid to enter in defend-attack spirals, they express curiosity with questions like “So you don’t see any merit in this proposal at all?”
  4. Of every five comments the experts made, at least one ended in a question mark.

We won’t have much luck changing other people’s mind if we refuse to change ours. We can demonstrate openness by acknowledging where we agree with our critics and even what we’ve learned from them.

Regarding IBM’s Project Debater

This looks like a RL system trained from 400 Million articles. The system inherited some bad strategies from the training data.
Similar to what happened with AlphaGo and its successor AlphaGoZero, it would be interesting to see how this would evolve not having this initial corpus of “biased” knowledge base.

The person most likely to change your mind is you. You pick the reasons you find most compelling, and you come away with a real sense of ownership over them.

When someone becomes hostile, if you respond by viewing the argument as a war you can either attack or retreat. If instead you treat it as a dance, you have another option, you can sidestep. 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.

Chapter 6 # Diminishing Prejudice by Destabilizing Stereotypes

If beliefs are stereotypes, they often spill over prejudice. The stronger your attitudes become, the less likely you are to rethink them.

In every human society, people are motivated to seek belonging and status. Identifying with a group check both boxes at the same time: we become part of a tribe, and we take pride when our tribe wins.

Our beliefs are like a pair of reality googles. We use them to make sense of the world and navigate our surroundings. We became especially hostile when trying to defend opinions that we know, deep down, are false. Rather than trying on a different pair of googles, we become mental contortionist, twisting and turning until we find an angle of vision that keeps our current views intact.

Trying to downplay a rivalry by reminding fans that it’s just a game, will backfires, Fans feels their identity as being devalued and actually become more aggressive.

When we realize how easily we could have held different stereotypes, we might be more willing to update our views.

Exploring the origins of your own beliefs, or invite others doing this exploration, with counterfactual questions to rethink our own stances towards other groups. The most effective way to help people pull out of their stereotype towers is to talk with them in person.

Chapter 7 # Listening to change people’s mind

Refusing a point of view produces antibodies against future influence attempts. We become more certain of our opinions and less curious about alternative views.

Motivational interviewing

The central promise is that we can rarely motivate someone else to change. We are better off helping them to find their own motivation to change. Three key techniques for this:

  1. Asking open ended questions
  2. Engaging in reflective listening
  3. Affirming the person’s desire and ability to change

A good guide doesn’t stop at helping people change their beliefs or behaviors. A guide work isn’t done until they’ve helped the subject to accomplish their goals.

Motivational interviewing requires a genuine desire to help people reach their goals.

Listening well is more than a matter of talking less. It’s a set of skills in asking and responding. Even the devil appreciates being listened to.

Listening is a way of offering others our scarcest, most precious gift: our attention.

PART 3 # Collective Rethinking

Chapter 8 # Depolarizing our divided discussions

Presenting two extremes isn’t the solution, it’s part of the polarization problem. Simplify a problem to the core may also not be the best solution. People are actually more inclined to think again if we present these topics through the many lenses of a prism.

When someone knowledgeable admits uncertainty, it surprises people, and they end up paying more attention to the substance of the argument.

Appreciating complexity reminds us that no behavior is always effective and that all cures have unintended consequences.

People’s passion for a principle is seen as a sign of integrity. Even if we reject the belief we grow to respect the person behind it.

What stand in the way of rethinking isn’t the expression of emotion; it’s a restricted range of emotions.

Chapter 9 # Teaching students critical thinking

The focus should not be on being right, but on building the skills to consider different views and argue productively about them.

Think like fact checkers

  1. Interrogate information instead of simply consuming it
  2. Reject rank and popularity as a proxy for reliability
  3. Understand that the sender of information is often not its source

Active learning sessions are more useful than lectures

Despite enjoying the lectures more, students actually gained more knowledge and skills from the active-learning sessions. It required more mental effort, which made it less fun but led to better understanding.

Mastering a craft is about constantly revisiting our thinking

Education is more than the information we accumulated in our heads, it’s the habits we develop as we keep revisiting our drafts and the skills we built to keep learning.

Chapter 10 # Building cultures of learning at work

Rethinking is not just an individual skill, it’s a collective capability, and it depends heavily on an organization’s culture. Rethinking is more likely to happen in a learning culture, where growth is the core value and rethinking cycles are routine.

How do you know?
It’s a question we need to ask more often, both of ourselves and of others.

It takes confident humility to admit that we are a work in progress. It shows that we care more about improving ourselves than proving ourselves.

Focusing on results might be good for short-term performance, but it can be an obstacle to long-term learning.

Requiring proof is an enemy of progress Companies like Amazon use a principle of “DISAGREE and COMMIT”.

PART 4 # Conclusion

Chapter 11 # Reconsidering our best-laid Career and Life plans

There’s a fine line between heroic persistence and foolish stubbornness. Sometimes the best kind of grit is gritting our teeth and turning around.

One of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child is: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.

WORK SHOULD NOT DEFINE US

Even pre-kindergarten students express more interest in science when it’s presented as something we do rather than someone we are. Old industries are changing, and new industries are emerging faster than ever before: it wasn’t that long ago that Google, Uber, and Instagram didn’t exist. Your future self doesn’t exist right now either, and your interests might change over time.

I think it’s better to lose the past two years of progress than to waste the next twenty.

Do a career check-up twice a year and ask yourselves:

  • When did you form the aspirations you are currently pursuing, and how have you changed since then?
  • Have you reached a learning plateau in your role or your workplace, and is it time to consider a pivot? Knowing a notification will pop up twice a year help then resist the temptation to think about quitting every day.

Data suggests that meaning is healthier than happiness, and that people who look purpose in their work are more successful in pursuing their passions - and less likely to quit their jobs - than those who look for joy.

MEANING > HAPPINESS

We might be better off pursuing the job where we expect to learn and contribute the most.

Passions are often developed, not discovered

If this job didn’t exist, how much worse off would people be?

Happiness should not be a goal but a by-product of mastery and meaning.

Writing out a plan for your life “is like driving at night in the fog”. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.

The simplest way to start rethinking our options is to question what we do daily.


See also