The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know
Author: Dr. Adam Grant
Dr. RL Booker's Ratings
WRITING STYLE: 4.5/5
DID IT MOVE ME?: 4/5
(Rating: 5 highest & 1 lowest)
“Even our great governing document, the U.S. Constitution, allows for amendments. What if we were quicker to make amendments to our own mental constitutions?"
Dr. Adam Grant, an award-winning organizational psychologist wrote the thought-provoking book titled Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know. He breaks this book into three categories: 1) opening our minds, 2) encouraging other people to think again, 3) creating communities of lifelong learners. Dr. Grant explains that we all have heard and to some extent hold onto negative stereotypes about groups. Those stereotypes can often spill over into prejudice. In order to expose and counteract those beliefs, Dr. Grant introduces Rethinking, in which he explored the most compelling evidence for rethinking from some of the world's top rethinkers.
In this book, he takes great care to explain that if we intentionally explore and acknowledge what we don't know and then update our closely held beliefs, we can activate rethinking, "which liberates us to do more than update our knowledge and opinions-it's a tool for leading a more fulfilling life." The rethinking cycle involves intellectual humility, doubt, curiosity, and discovery. He also explains that rethinking something that we believe deeply can not only threaten our identities but also requires us to admit that the ideas that we have considered to be facts may have changed. While rethinking may be aspirational for many of us, the reality is that three mental modes often hinder us from activating rethinking.
When we interact with others, we oftentimes respond via one of the three mental modes: preacher mode, prosecutor mode, or politician mode.
Preacher Mode: We go into this mode when our sacred beliefs are in jeopardy: we deliver sermons to protect and promote our ideals.
Prosecutor Mode: We enter this mode when we recognize flaws in other people’s reasoning: we marshal arguments to prove them wrong and win our case.
Politician Mode: We shift into this mode when we’re seeking to win over an audience: we campaign and lobby for the approval of our constituents.
We all at some point in our lives go in and out of one of these modes depending on the situation. It is not that responding in these ways is the right or wrong perspective, rather "the risk is that we become so wrapped up in preaching that we’re right, prosecuting others who are wrong, and politicking for support that we don’t bother to rethink our own views.” Dr. Grant suggests that we could all become better at rethinking if we processed information in similar ways as scientists. We move into scientist mode when we are searching for the truth, which involves running experiments to test our theories and discovering knowledge. Getting to the point of thinking and reacting to situations involves more than just having an open mind. It requires..." being actively open-minded. It requires searching for reasons why we might be wrong—not for reasons why we must be right—and revising our views based on what we learn.”
While in the midst of a pandemic and months of social unrest/protests in over 2,000 cities, towns, and over 60 countries many people, especially Americans, were forced to rethink their views on racial injustice, police brutality, and the centuries-long denial of the realities faced by people within minoritized communities. Dr. Grant states,
The senseless deaths of three Black citizens—George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery—left millions of white people realizing that just as sexism is not only a women’s issue, racism is not only an issue for people of color...Many of those who had long been unwilling or unable to acknowledge it quickly came to grips with the harsh reality of systemic racism that still pervades America. Many of those who had long been silent came to reckon with their responsibility to...act against prejudice.
Now that we are exactly one year removed from the start of the 2020 protests for racial justice, I wonder how many people who are not directly impacted by systemic racism are continuing to do the work to recognize their biases, proactively stand against racial injustice, and actively working as an ally with those who have been historically marginalized. Rethinking does not just happen because we want it to. Rethinking requires intentionality. Updating our closely held beliefs requires us to go through the stages of doubt, uncomfortableness, and frustration. Because rethinking and updating our closely held beliefs can be so difficult, Dr. Grant gives us two ways to activate rethinking: Counterfactual Thinking and Actions for Impact as we move forward. Below are some tips he suggests could help us on our rethinking journey.
Strategies for Rethinking
Counterfactual Thinking involves imagining how the circumstances of your life could have unfolded differently. When you realize how easily you could have held different stereotypes, you might be more willing to update your views. To activate counterfactual thinking, you might ask yourself questions like:
How would your stereotypes be different if you’d been born Black, Latinx/Hispanic, Asian, or Native American?
What opinions would you hold if you’d been raised on a farm versus in a city, or in a culture on the other side of the world?
What beliefs would you cling to if you lived in the 1700s?
Actions for Impact
I. Individual Rethinking
a. Develop the habit of thinking again
b. Calibrate your confidence
c. Invite others to question your thinking
II. Interpersonal Rethinking
a. Ask better questions
b. Approach disagreements as dances, not battles
III. Collective Rethinking
a. Have more nuanced conversations
b. Teach kids to think again
c. Create learning organizations
d. Stay open to rethinking your future
My Conclusion on Why We Should All Think Again?
I will concede that Dr. Grant covered much more in his book than I could lay out in this short book review. He gives much more detail about how we can all work to help others open their minds and create communities of lifelong learners. I strongly recommend that you explore the entire book as I believe it is specifically targeted to help us during this polarized time in America. This book helped me understand how I, as a person who is actively working to expand my knowledge about other cultures and groups, can be more intentional in my efforts of rethinking my own closely held beliefs. As I work on my self-awareness, I am working to move from folks who I consider a support network (those who only encourage us and cheerlead for us) to people who can be a challenge network for me. Dr. Grants states that "a challenge network [is] a group of people we trust to point out our blind spots and help us overcome our weaknesses. Their role is to activate rethinking cycles by pushing us to be humble about our expertise, doubt our knowledge, and be curious about new perspectives". As valuable as rethinking is, I will admit that I do not do it enough. I am now encouraged to focus on rethinking as I move throughout my everyday life and I hope that this book will give you the same motivation.
To learn more about Dr. Adam Grant's book, listen to his Ted Talk here: https://youtu.be/CIlgTBmiov0
Notable Quotes in the Book
"Most of us take pride in our knowledge and expertise, and in staying true to our beliefs and opinions. That makes sense in a stable world, where we get rewarded for having conviction in our ideas. The problem is that we live in a rapidly changing world, where we need to spend as much time rethinking as we do thinking.”
“The absence of conflict is not harmony, it’s apathy.”
“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.”
“Confident humility doesn’t just open our minds to rethinking—it improves the quality of our rethinking."
Grant, A. (2021). Think again: The power of knowing what you don't know. Viking.