Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know
RETHINKING can create uncertainty. Make us uncomfortable. Uncomfortable feeling. It can threaten our identity. Rethinking can also help us to find solutions to old problems, to deepen our perspective, to free ourselves from inherited dogmas and opinions of other people and to understand how our deeply rooted values relate to and are applied to our changing environment .
Adam Grant challenges us to think again – to question what we think we know. “Unfortunately we often prefer to feel right when it comes to our own knowledge and opinions.”
Grant colleague Phil Tetlock discovered that when thinking and talking (and scanning social media) we tend to slip into the mindset of three different professions: preacher, prosecutor, and politician. “The risk is that we become so involved in sermons that we are right, prosecute others who are wrong, and seek assistance that we don’t bother to reconsider our own views.” (Grant offers a short Think Again quiz on his website.) The approach to ideas and opinions that we need to focus on is the minds of scientists. It is a mindset of curiosity and seeking the truth rather than becoming defensive, offensive, or soothing.
Rethinking is not a question of how smart you are. “The brighter you are, the more difficult it can be to see your own limits. Thinking well can make us worse when we rethink. “
What matters is how curious and actively open-minded you are. Active in the sense that we are looking for reasons why we might be wrong.
One key to rethinking is to break away from your beliefs. This has two forms: “Separate your present from your past and your opinions from your identity.”
Who you are should be a matter of what you value, not what you believe. Values are your basic tenets in life – they can be excellence and generosity, freedom and fairness, or security and integrity. When you base your identity on these types of principles, you can remain open to the best ways to advance them.
Differences of opinion often turn into a relationship conflict – personal and emotional – full of hostility and vindictiveness. Task conflicts are often desirable in order to get the best answer. “The absence of conflict is not harmony, it is apathy.”
When a conflict becomes personal and emotional, we become self-righteous preachers of our own views, malicious prosecutors on the other side, or determined politicians who reject opinions that do not come from our side.
While it’s nice to have people around us who agree with us, successful people need a challenge network – people we trust, who can point blind spots, doubt our knowledge, and can be humble about our expertise. In short, people who question us and hold us accountable when they rethink our perspectives. Wilbur Wright once wrote: “Honest argument is just a process of taking the rays and motifs out of each other’s eyes so that both can see clearly.”
Grant notes that “Research suggests that we want people with different traits and backgrounds but similar principles. The diversity of personality and experience brings new ideas to rethink and additional skills for new paths. “
In a debate, it is best to find common ground first. It is a dance. “When we admit that someone else made a good point, we are signaling that we are not preachers, prosecutors, or politicians trying to advance an agenda. We are scientists trying to find out the truth. “
At the same time, keep your reasoning simple. Too many and you will dilute the power of each one. “We don’t have to convince them that we are right – we just have to open their minds to the possibility that they might be wrong.”
When we know that we may not really know, instead of investigating, “we become contortionists mentally, twist and turn until we find a point of view that keeps our current views intact.” And we can get quite hostile. No wonder there.
It’s hard to get others to change. Better to help them find their own reason for change. And the best way to do that is to listen – ask questions. What we must avoid is the straightening reflex – “the desire to fix problems and provide answers”.
There are a number of problems in the world where there is more going on than we know. The problems are complex and not binary – yes or no. Admitting the complexity of a problem is often a sign of credibility. And skeptics are not deniers. You are curious.
If you find that _____ is always good or _____ is never bad, you may be a member of an idea [or personality] Cult. Recognizing the complexity reminds us that no behavior is always effective and that all remedies have unintended consequences.
Grant gives us a lot more reasons to reconsider our opinions than I have covered here. His concern is that by reading the book we will not close the book on rethinking. The book brings awareness to our human nature, but it doesn’t make us do anything about it. It’s easy to look at our loose beliefs and rethink them. The challenge is to rethink the ingrained ideas and beliefs that tend to divide us – especially the ideas that we have blindly accepted from others. Together we have outsourced far too much of our thinking. It’s time to think again.
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Posted by Michael McKinney at 7:51 am
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