Pursue What Matters
Episode 99: Think Again Book Review
Please excuse any typos, transcripts are generated by an automated service
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Most of us believe our beliefs pretty strongly. And it’s even seen as a sign of character to hold to your beliefs and never waver. But what if you learn that this approach actually undermines your growth and connection with others? So join me for today’s book review, because we are going to explore why thinking again, is good for you.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:26
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. And today, we are doing another great book review. And this is a brand new book that just came out from Adam Grant. And I really like Adam Grant, if you’ve listened to any of my podcasts, you know that I am a fan of him. I think he’s a really great thinker. And he seems to be pretty reasonable. So that’s always a win in my book. And so the name of his newest book, his latest book is Think Again. And it is awesome. It is the power of knowing what you don’t know. And boy, after the year we’ve had with so many conflicting viewpoints, whether around science and the pandemic vs. politics and everything going on in our society. This is a book that we all need to really take a more humble approach to what we believe we know, and how that can actually be better for all considered.
Dr. Melissa Smith 1:46
So I hope you will join me today. There are some really great take home points from this book that I just want to highlight, of course, we will not review the entire book because that would take too long. But hopefully, with today’s podcast, you can get a flavor for the book. And really, I’m going to share some of some of the really most powerful points that I thought grant had from the book that I believe can strengthen your love and work right, strengthen your leadership because that’s what we’re interested in. And of course, every week on the podcast, my goal is to help you pursue what matters and to help you strengthen your confidence lead, I do that in one of three areas, either clarity to lead, so being able to see things clearly curiosity to lead, which is really that self awareness and self leadership that is so incredibly important for effective leadership. And then of course, the third area is community. And that’s building and leading a community. And so what I would say today with this book review is this book really helps you first of all, with curiosity, this is a great book for helping you reflect on what you think, you know, and really informing that that reflection and that exploration with some really great research that is emerging, and so that you can be open to new ideas, so that you can, you know, hold to your values, but be open to new beliefs. And that’s a really important concept that Grant talks about in the book, which I think is really very powerful. We don’t want to be the stubborn one, we don’t want to be the one that has our head in the sand and is not willing to understand and examine new ideas. And so this is primarily a book that will help you with your self awareness and your self leadership. But it’s also really great for increasing clarity and also for building and leading a community. So it’s got all the things here.
Dr. Melissa Smith 3:45
So let’s take a look at first of all, Adam Grant. As I’ve said he is one of my favorite thought leaders when it comes to leadership and professional development. And so he’s an organizational psychologist at the Wharton School, where he has been the top rated professor for seven straight years. So no pressure there, right. And his books have sold millions of copies. His TED talks have been viewed over 25 million times and his podcast, Work Life with Adam Grant has topped the charts. his pioneering research has inspired people to rethink fundamental assumptions about motivation, generosity, and creativity. And he’s also been recognized as one of the world’s 10 most influential management thinkers, and Fortune’s 40 under 40. And so really he’s a great thinker. And I think what I what I really appreciate about him is he invites us to examine our opinions and our perspectives and to be humble in that process. So that’s a little bit about Adam Grant.
Dr. Melissa Smith 4:47
And now, let’s take a look at what others are saying about this book. And so this book just came out it came out, I believe, the beginning of February so I was so excited when it came out. I got my hands on it. I’ve been reading it and, you know, finished it in just a couple days, and have been kind of poring over the research. And so here’s what others are saying about this book. First of all, Bill and Melinda Gates, “this is a must read.” And then let’s, let’s see what others are saying as well. So for Brene Brown, “this is the right book for right now. Yes, learning requires focus, but unlearning and relearning requires much more, it requires choosing courage over comfort. In Think Again, Adam Grant, we use together research and storytelling, to help us build the intellectual and emotional muscle, we need to stay curious enough about the world to actually change it. I’ve never felt so hopeful about what I don’t know.” So that’s Brene Brown. And a couple of things that she highlights in there that I think are really great. This book is a very nice balance of research and storytelling, it is a really enjoyable read. So it is not stuffy, it’s not boring, you will get swept into the stories. And he uses those stories to explain the research and to make his points and it’s really great. And then of course, the other thing that Brene Brown points out is the curiosity, how do we build our intellectual and emotional muscles, because both of those really inform the process, when we assume we know better, we get stubborn, we close ourselves off emotionally from other people and from connection. And so it really is this balance of intellectual and emotional connection that can really help us. A little bit more from Bill and Melinda Gates. So “Think Again, is a must read for anyone who wants to create a culture of learning and exploration, whether at home at work or at school, in an increasingly divided world, the lessons in this book are more important than ever.” And of course, like I mentioned, it just came out. I know it’s hitting the top 10 lists, I think it’s somewhere I last I checked, I think it was somewhere around five or six.
Dr. Melissa Smith 5:06
So it’s doing very well people tend to agree with, with the fact that Adam Grant has done a good job. Now, they might not agree with everything he has to say, because who do you agree with everyone on, but it’s a compelling addition to the leadership discussion. And really, this is a book for everyone. It is a book for everyone who has strong beliefs, and who has strong values. And so I think it’s really wonderful.
Dr. Melissa Smith 7:33
So let’s think about how this book can strengthen your love and work. So this is a book about mental flexibility about the value and the benefits of it. Now, that’s something I talk about a lot. We talk about neuroplasticity, which is another word for mental flexibility. And in the past year, of course, we have seen a hardening of thoughts and opinions around so many issues, right, we’ve become much more polarized as a society. And with that polarization, what happens, we get mentally very rigid, very, very rigid, and we lose our mental flexibility. But we know mental flexibility is a foundation for intelligence, for emotional intelligence, for connection and for growth. And so we always want to be about that mental flexibility. And so in many ways, we’ve become less mentally flexible in the last year. And Grant really invites us through great storytelling and solid research to think again. And again, you’ll hear me using this word over and over to be humble to approach our beliefs, and our opinions with humility, because here’s the thing, you might not know better. And that is really what we’re taught by Adam Grant. But it is also hopeful and inspiring. So as we face the world, make decisions and forge a path, we have tools that we often cling to, right, we all tend to cling to these, we cling to our assumptions, our instincts, our habits. And having an open mind actually just takes a tiny percentage of the tools that we that we rely on. And so when we become so tied to our assumptions, they become part of our identity in many cases. And so the invitation here with the book is to learn how to think again, and let go of knowledge and opinions that no longer serve you. And if you just think about your own career or your own educational path, how many beliefs or opinions or best practices have actually shifted over that time.
Dr. Melissa Smith 9:33
So you know, I’ve been a practicing psychologist since 2006. That’s when I graduated with my doctoral degree. And I can tell you, there has been an evolution, there has been a shift in some of the best practices. Now, of course, some of the a lot of the foundational things are still there. But there has been an evolution in best practices and this willingness to challenge assumptions. And I will say as a practicing psychologist, it’s made my practice better. It’s made The treatment of the populations I serve better. And so we don’t want to be too tied to our assumptions. And so, again, it’s the invitation to think again. And, you know, when we, when we think about this, one of one of the things that he talks about is being able to embrace mental flexibility instead of consistency. So, you know, typically, in our society, consistency is seen as a very valuable thing. And there are many great aspects of consistency. But sometimes when we are very consistent with our beliefs, or our assumptions, we lose mental flexibility. And it makes us less effective. So if we can embrace mental flexibility, instead of consistency, some of the results include more success at work more happiness in life, who doesn’t want that? We can we learn to generate new solutions to old problems, right? Like you start to challenge assumptions. And it is a path to learning.
Dr. Melissa Smith 11:02
And of course, if you know anything about the work that I do, I’m all about learning along your path and growing. And the other benefits include living with fewer regrets, that sounds pretty nice. And when we can embrace mental flexibility, it absolutely is the hallmark of wisdom. And so I mentioned this at the top of the podcast, but I think this is a really core foundational belief, or core concept that grant talks about. So he, he says that so many of us hold our beliefs and our opinions, deeply rooted. And that often that makes us blind, to, you know, learning, to learning new things, to having our opinions swayed even by really good research and really valid arguments. And so, you know, the thing that we want to think about, and the shift that grant invites us to make is to hold your beliefs and opinions lightly, but to be rooted in values, right? Because we do want to be grounded, we do want to be rooted, but what should we be rooted in, it shouldn’t be in your beliefs and opinions, because here is the thing, your beliefs and your opinions may be dead wrong. I mean, they may be absolutely counter to reality. And yeah, if you if you invest your identity and your sense of self, in those beliefs, and opinions, what happens when you are proven wrong? What happens when new, new perspectives and new research comes out to really challenge your beliefs and opinions, if you’re not careful, you can be on board. But we want to be rooted, of course, we want to be rooted, but we want to be grounded and rooted in our values. So we this is this is really the invitation, this is really the work of this book. But when you can hold your beliefs and opinions lightly, then you can remain steady to purpose by staying firmly rooted to your values, and you can continue to grow and evolve. And that’s what each of us should be doing in our lives. And so there are three parts to the book that he talks about. And we’re really just going to focus on the first part for our purposes today. So the three parts include individual rethinking, so rethinking what you thought you knew. The second section is interpersonal rethinking, so in relationships. And then the third is collective rethinking. And so kind of expanding that out to the broader level.
Dr. Melissa Smith 13:34
But we’re going to focus today on individual rethinking, because this really is the foundation, if you can start to challenge your own thoughts in your own head, it will really, you know, aid you in so many ways as you approach relationships. So he talks about these different ways of thinking, and different ways of trying to sway people. So he talks about a preacher and he talks about a prosecutor, and he talks about a politician, and that each of these have some strengths, but they also have some big weaknesses. So when we think like a preacher, the idea is, I will convert you to my beliefs, there is no proof required, we act on faith alone. Sometimes there’s the monotone uniforms, but the ways you think, are, you know, they extend beyond your job. And so, you know, when we think like a preacher, we can run the risk of being zealots.
Dr. Melissa Smith 14:31
And then the second way of thinking that that grant talks about is thinking like a prosecutor. Right. And you’ve all felt this experience. If you’ve been in a conversation with someone who is thinking like a prosecutor, and that stance is I will prosecute you. I will attack your beliefs. Sometimes there’s too much training there. But the idea with a prosecutor is often we are intent on attacking the other side. Now we like evidence right prosecutors Like evidence that’s really important if you’re prosecuting a case. So sometimes these are the folks that are just hitting you over the head with research or stats, and really trying to attack your beliefs. And I don’t know about you, but it does not feel good to be in a conversation with someone who is thinking like a prosecutor.
Dr. Melissa Smith 15:19
And then the third way of rethinking, he talks about thinking like a politician. Now, we’ve heard a lot from politicians this last year. But the idea when we think like a politician is I will sway you with a better argument. There’s not necessarily any training required. It all often involves attacking the other side. And the politicians are kind of like the preacher in the respect that they often act on faith alone. So you know, numbers and stats and research are less important. When you’re a politician it is how smooth are you? How much charisma do you have? Can you sway with a better argument, and there can be plenty of attack. And we’ve certainly seen a lot of that in the last year.
Dr. Melissa Smith 16:02
So those are the three ways of thinking preacher, prosecutor and politician that grant says really gets us in trouble. And he wants us to think like a scientist. And so when I think about a scientist, this is the language that I use all the time in the folks that I work with, in coaching and clinical situations, to be a curious observer. So rethinking is actually what you do as a scientist. So beliefs are held lightly. Everything is a hypothesis. So right for any of you who have done research, you know that that is true. Even something that you like, really hope is true, you hold it lightly, because it is only a hypothesis. And scientists are expected to doubt what they know, right? Like you never have this solid confidence. Because, right, you’re testing, you’re researching, you’re experimenting. And so scientists update their views with new data. They’re searching for the truth, right? And we know that truth can be pretty elusive. But that is what the search is about. It’s not about convincing someone else. It’s actually about the search for truth, discovering knowledge. And of course, experiments are required. And scientists often rely on evidence, right? So that’s what we mean when we think about experiments and research. And the the big thing is that your beliefs are held lightly, you have some hypotheses, but you’re not positive, right? And having done plenty of research in my time, I can I can tell you that even if you’re really excited about a hypothesis, you don’t know until you’ve run the study, and you’ve done the research you’ve put in the time. And you really have to be humble, as a scientist, as a researcher. And so that is that’s kind of the foundation that he uses throughout the book to kind of help us with, how are we thinking? And I’ll just tell you, it’s that’s been really helpful for me, just since I read the book, you know, to find in myself and to be curious in myself, like, am I acting like a preacher here? Like, am I being a zealot? Or am I being a prosecutor? Like, am I attacking the other person’s beliefs? And that, you know, we all can we can all move into those different roles, for sure, depending on the argument, depending on how close it is to our identity, right. And I think the real value in understanding these ways of thinking so prosecutor, preacher, politician and scientists, is that when you notice these tendencies within yourself, you can be curious, and you can take a step back and actually move back into scientists mode.
Dr. Melissa Smith 18:41
So instead of attacking someone’s beliefs, when you notice that you can, it can be an invitation to move back into being a curious observer. And so from Adam Grant from the book, he says, we often favor feeling right over being right. And isn’t that true? We want certainty, and especially in the world that we’re living in right now, where there is so much uncertainty, we really like the feeling of being right. And whether we are actually right. Seems beside the point. And boy, that will get us into so much trouble. And it has I mean, it just has we have so many countervailing arguments out there on whatever topic you can imagine. And it seems like being right or, you know, the facts actually don’t matter that much. We’re so intent on making our point and convincing the other side and that is a real problem.
Dr. Melissa Smith 19:37
So another point that I think is so it’s really funny, actually, but also very, very important to understand. And that is, the smarter You are the harder you fell, so that’s from grab. So mental horsepower does not guarantee mental dexterity or that mental flexibility. In fact, now listen up for you smart folks who you know pride yourself on your Intel. Since high IQ sometimes leads to more rigid thinking, and right, sometimes that’s just an arrogance thing, because it’s like you just assume you know better because you’re smarter than others. But some of the some of the patterns that grant talks about from the research is that those with higher IQ are more likely to fall for stereotypes, because they’re faster at recognizing patterns. And so that’s a way that high IQ can be a real Achilles heel, if you don’t take a curious observer stance. Another finding is that the smarter you are, the more you may struggle to update your beliefs, right. And again, that can go back to the arrogance thing of just like you assume you know, better. And so you assume you’re correct. And so that leaves you closed off to new views, okay. And that, obviously, is really problematic. And it doesn’t make you very fun to be around like people don’t want to be around no at all. That’s for darn sure.
Dr. Melissa Smith 20:56
Another point about the smarter you are, the harder you fall, is that the better you are at crunching numbers, the more spectacularly you fell at analyzing patterns that contradict your views. So if you’re really good at crunching numbers, and the findings, the findings look to be supportive of your views, you can be pretty good at that you can be pretty accurate. But if you crunch numbers, and they actually come out to contradict your perspective, you will lose insight, you will not be able to see that clearly. So a really big perfect example is why political pollster, so often get polls so wrong, right. 2020 that really happened in a big way. So, one, one way to think about that, is that, you know, pollsters assumed they knew everything they needed to know about Trump, political candidate. And what that what that meant is when they went to conduct their polls, they had some blinders on. And they didn’t, they weren’t, they weren’t capturing the information they needed to capture it, they weren’t getting out the questions that would really help them have an accurate picture about this candidate and about people who may be voting for this candidate. And so it’s a classic example of how, you know, if you’re not careful, you will use your skills, the crunching numbers, the high intelligence, and it will be used in the service of, of wrongheaded thinking it will be used in the service of failure, because what we know is the political pollsters got the polls very, very wrong this year. And I think that is part of what happened is that you spectacularly fell in analyzing patterns that contradicts your views, or you don’t even start looking for them, you don’t ask the right questions, you don’t reach the right populations. And so I think there’s right these are real life impacts for all of us as we think about that.
Dr. Melissa Smith 23:03
So in the end of the book, Grant talks about the rethinking cycle and then he talks about the overconfidence cycle. And these are really helpful concepts. So when we have the rethinking, cycle, so right, just picture it as a cycle. You start with intellectual humility, you know, what you don’t know. And, you know, one thing I would recommend to you, is make a list of areas where you are ignorant, and grant talks about this. And it should probably be a long list, because no one knows everything. But knowing what you don’t know. The next thing is to doubt. So lean towards questioning your current understanding, that really will help you to be a good scientist. So we’ve got intellectual humility, we’ve got doubt. We’ve got curiosity. So as you question, you become curious about what information you’re missing, right? And so we start with intellectual humility, then we move to doubt in that cycle where we start to question our current understanding, which leads to curiosity, because you become curious about what you may be missing, and you want to learn. And that moves us to the fourth component of the rethinking cycle, which is discovery. And so the search leads to new discoveries, which in turn, maintains your humility, by reinforcing how much you still have to learn that you see with that rethinking cycle, you’re actually learning and growing in that process. But you’re doing that as a function of humility, doubt, curiosity, and discovery. And it really does become a virtuous cycle. I just I love it.
Dr. Melissa Smith 24:43
And so from Grant from the book, he says, “if knowledge is power, knowing what we don’t know is wisdom.” And I really think that there’s, there’s so much truth to that and it again speaks to that intellectual humility and the way we approach problems, decisions and issues in our world. And so now, you know, when we think about, we just think about this scientific thinking favors humility over pride, doubt over certainty and curiosity over closure. And so when we move out of that scientists mode, the rethinking cycle breaks down. And that’s where we run the risk of moving into the overconfidence cycle. And so I want to talk a little bit about this overconfidence cycle, because I think there are plenty of us that fall for this all the time.
Dr. Melissa Smith 25:36
So the first component of the overconfidence cycle is pride. So if we’re preaching, we can’t see gaps in our knowledge, we believe we assume we have the truth. Okay. And then that pride leads us to the next step, which is conviction. And, you know, we believe we have the truth. And this breeds conviction rather than doubt, which makes us prosecutors, right? So we go from preteen to prosecuting, we want to change other’s minds. But here’s the thing, we’re not willing to look at our own minds, we’re not willing to look at our own beliefs, we’re just really intent on changing other’s minds. And then from conviction, the second part of the overconfidence cycle leads to the third component, which is confirmation and desirability bias. So this is where we move into becoming politicians, we ignore or dismiss whatever doesn’t win the favor of our constituents. Right? So we’re too busy putting on a show. And in that process, right, if the truth might be inconvenient, right, we think about An Inconvenient Truth. And the truth is moved backstage, because we are busy putting on a show, we’re busy. Being charismatic, we’re busy, convincing. And so the truth takes a backseat or the backstage. And then this leads to the fourth step in the overconfidence cycle, which is validation. So you know, the resulting validation can make you arrogant, right, you believe you are right, instead of pressure, testing your beliefs.
Dr. Melissa Smith 27:12
And so that is the overconfidence cycle. So pride, conviction, confirmation and desirability bias, and then validation. And boy, oh, boy, that can get us into a lot of trouble. And so, of course, we do not want that happening to you. And that the book also talks about and I am, I’m not going to cover this, I’m going to save this, I think for another podcast, because it’s so powerful, I think it deserves a little more time. And that is that competence and confidence are not the same thing. And that, you know, we we make a lot of errors when we assume that they are and we have issues where we have, we have more competence, but not enough confidence. And that’s imposter syndrome, right? And then we have situations where we have high confidence and low competence. And that puts us at risk for being the armchair quarterback syndrome, where you know, we are ego driven. And we’re not able to look at our own thinking. And so I am going to leave it there for today.
Dr. Melissa Smith 28:24
There’s so much more in this book, I mean, really, really powerful stuff. The second section moves into interpersonal rethinking, and then collective rethinking. And so I hope that this gives you a good flavor for the book. Maybe you’re intrigued, maybe you want to read up more on it. So head on over to my website to check out the show notes with all the great resources for this episode. And a link to grab your copy of think again, so I’ll have some resources related to Adam Grant. So you can do that at my website. www.drmelissasmith.com/thinkagain. So one more time that’s www.drmelissasmith.com/thinkagain, and there’s no space there on think again. So I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember loving work, work in love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.
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