When people think of success they think of intelligence. Yet with the advent of the internet, a new skill is becoming arguably more important: the ability to rethink and unlearn.
In his fascinating book, Think Again, Adam Grant goes into depth on why you need to adopt the habit of rethinking into your life and how you can go about doing so.
Why are we so against rethinking?
- Our modern monkey brains are cognitively lazy: we often prefer the ease of holding onto old views over the difficulty of grappling with new ones.
- Questioning threatens our identity. If we define ourselves by our views and beliefs of the world, then what do we become once we change those beliefs?
- Rethinking isn’t prioritized by the group. After College, many surround themselves with a YES! group: people that validate your opinions and identity. Why change ourselves if the group doesn’t do so?
Grant describes a group of firefighters who were unwilling to drop past equipment for new and improved ones that might save more lives. According to the firefighters, "dropping one's tools creates existential crisis. Without [their] tools, who are they?
And yet, dropping old tools for new and improved ones is becoming more and more necessary. In his book, The Inevitable, Ken Kesey describes one of his twelve forces of the future, Becoming: a constant state of new apps and ideas coming out as human beings become more and more technologically adept.
This will put us in a state of perpetual newbism. Constantly having to learn and re-learn how to do something as the process itself changes every few years. A hallmark of wisdom is knowing when it's time to abandon some of your most treasured tools--and some of the most cherished parts of your identity. Those who will rise to the top will have the ability to rethink and relearn.
Are you one of them?
Let’s go on a journey with Grant and discover how we can ingrain this habit into our lives.
Part I: Intrapersonal Rethinking
🧠Chapter 1: A Preacher a Prosecutor, a Politician, and a Scientist Walk into Your Mind
"Progress is impossible without change; and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything” - George Bernard Shaw.
Mike and the BlackBerry
In 1984, Mike Lazaridis did what so many great entrepreneurs of his time would do: he dropped out of college.
He created his flagship product, the BlackBerry: a wireless communication device used for sending and receiving emails.
Famous people from Bill Gates to Christina Aguilera raved about the BlackBerry when it first came out saying it literally "changed [their] lives.”
By the summer of 2009, it accounted for nearly half of the U.S. smartphone market. In 2014, its market share had plummeted to less than 1 percent.
Mike was unwilling to build on the original concept. Despite the advice from his leadership team, he didn’t want to make the BlackBerry into a personal pocket computer.
Mike failed because he was unwilling to rethink.
What mindset made him unwilling to take the advice of his leadership team?
The Preacher, Prosecutor, and Politician
Two decades ago Grant’s colleague Phil Tetlock discovered something peculiar. As we think and talk, we often dip into the mindsets of three different professions: preachers, prosecutors, and politicians.
Each of these mindsets brings with them a distinct identity and set of tools for our disposal.
In preacher mode, we deliver sermons to protect and promote our ideals. In prosecutor mode, we marshal arguments against others to win our case. Finally we shift into politician mode when we campaign and lobby for the approval of our constituents.
Mike was in preacher mode. He was so focused on spreading the glories of the BlackBerry he forgot to change it with the times.
There is a fourth profession. One aiding itself to the essential skill of rethinking we have been talking about so far: the scientist.
We move into scientist mode when we’re searching for the truth. We run experiments to test hypotheses and discover knowledge.
Thinking like a scientist doesn't only involve rethinking when the case for it comes up. It means actively putting systems in place which will cause you to rethink even when you don't know you have to rethink.
A good rethinker rethinks when the need for it arises. A great rethinker knows there are things they should rethink they don't even know about.
This is very similar to Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset. In her book, Mindset, Dweck defines a fixed and growth mindset. A fixed mindset leads you to stay in your comfort because you don’t feel the need or fear changing from the norm.
In other words 90% of the population.
A growth mindset, however, comes with believing you truly can become better than you are right now by stepping out of your comfort zone and forcing change.
I do this by implementing a weekly review into my life. Every week, I sit down and look at the past week through the lens of a scientist.
I look over my past calendar and to-do list to assess shortcomings and schedule future actions and events. I check all of the events I deem important enough to write about. I grow and change out a variety of journal prompts I think will make me critically think about my week. Some of my favorite questions to this day are "what was the happiest event of the week?" and "what was the best thing I learned?" and "what can I do better next week?"
I don’t know if you will care to know, but here are a few of my favorite answers from past weeks:
Week of January 28th - February 4th: What is the happiest event that happened this week?
I Ran 10 miles, Rob. I find it hilarious I will be dying after 3 on other days but because I set out to go ten I felt great.
For the first half.
The second half was pure agony. I Appreciate Matt, Max, and Rob for slowing down to compensate.
What is the best thing I learned?
You need to have difficult conversations with your lover before becoming serious in your relationship. You want to know what chores will be like in the house. You need to know how often they would like to talk. You need to know their life goals and if they align with yours.
What should I do better next week?
I should realize I don’t have to write in the morning every day. It’s a habit I love, but sometimes pressing things come up. As long as I write at some point throughout the day it’s okay.
Going back through these questions to write this post is incredibly satisfying. I get to look through my past and reflect on how far I have come.
The entire process only takes about 45 minutes and brings an amazing amount of clarity to my next week. Most importantly this process forces me to rethink things I didn't even know I had to rethink.
Why has the scientist mindset seemingly disappeared from present-day society?
With the advent of the internet, it has become easier than ever before to enter echo chambers. An echo chamber is a closed system in which beliefs are amplified or reinforced continuously.
In psychology, there are two biases that drive home this pattern. One is confirmation bias: we tend to see what we expect to see even if there is more there. The other is desirability bias: we tend to see what we want to see even if it's not true.
Grant says his favorite bias of all, however, is the "I'm not biased bias," in which people believe they are more objective or unbiased then others. Interestingly, smart people are more likely to fall for this trap. Intelligent people find it harder to spot their own limitations.
There are situations, however, in which you should embody preacher, prosecutor, or politician mode. You can’t be open-minded in every circumstance.
I use Roam Research for all of my personal notetaking. I use Notion for all of my content creation. Many people in the Building a Second Brain community have been switching over to Notion for their notetaking. Despite this movement, I remain steadfast in using Roam.
I have changed my notetaking apps before from Google Drive to Roam, and it took an extreme transition phase. In my opinion, it’s better to take notes at all than switch systems and stop taking notes entirely out of friction.
🏈Chapter 2: The Armchair Quarterback and the Imposter
"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge." - Charles Darwin
The Tale of Two Syndromes
In December 2015, Halla Tómasdóttir got a call she didn't expect. Someone started a petition for her to run for the presidency of Iceland. The first thought which came to her mind wasn't "Great!" but "Who am I to be president?"
She had helped start a university and co-founded an investment firm in 2007. Despite these facts, Halla remained ambivalent about the whole affair.
The petition, however, didn't go away and her friends and colleagues continued to urge her on. She ran for the position because of peer pressure even with her ambivalence.
Halla was suffering from a classic case of Imposter Syndrome, where competence exceeds confidence.
In theory, we would think confidence and competence go hand in hand. In practice, however, they often diverge.
Grant explains he has met many football fans who are convinced they know more than the coaches on the sidelines. This has a name: the Armchair Quarterback Syndrome. The Armchair Quarterback Syndrome is the opposite of Imposter Syndrome. It occurs when confidence exceeds competence, unlike Imposter Syndrome where competence exceeds confidence.
What is causing this disconnect?
The Dunning Kruger Effect
This occurs because of a fascinating phenomenon known as the Dunning Kruger Effect.
This effect explains why in a particular subject, the less intelligent we are the more we tend to overestimate our actual intelligence in the domain. This is because, in our overall sphere of knowledge, the amount we think there is to know about the thing is small.
This causes us to overestimate our abilities. Our small amount of knowledge seems large in relation to the amount we think there is to know about the subject.
As we get more and more knowledgeable about a field, our overall sphere of knowledge about the thing grows and we realize how much more there is to know that we don't.
A couple of years ago, I thought I knew everything there was to know about nutrition science. The three mantras I stuck to were to eat lots of protein, don't eat processed food, and eat LOTS of high-volume food.
After taking a class in nutrition science at Cornell, however, I realized how ignorant I was. There was an entire field of study which delved way deeper than I could ever have imagined beforehand. I was suffering from a classic case of the Dunning Kruger Effect.
How do we solve this?
It was a about a year ago I discovered the most beautiful definition of wisdom that I have ever come across.
"True wisdom is the realization there is a lot you don't know and a lot of what you do know is misguided or false." - Somebody
I wish I remembered the source this came from, but hey, I guess that shows you how much I don't know. Right!
The reason we lack this wisdom isn't that we aren't in scientist mode most of the time. It's that we have a deficit in metacognitive skill, the ability to think about our thinking.
We all have a voice in our heads constantly talking to us about our situation. "Wow that's a cool Instagram post." "I don't like that person." "I wish I had some McDonalds fries right now."
Most of us don't realize this voice is not us. Think about it. We don't choose whether these thoughts come and go. They just do.
We are the observer of these thoughts. By reflecting on our own individual and unique voices we can begin to develop a sense of humility on what it is we do and don't know.
When we are watching a football game and our voice says, wow! That coach sure doesn't know what he is doing," we can stop ourselves and ask, "did I go to coaching school?"
I find the single best way to do this is through mindfulness meditation. Silence is a rare cookie in the age of technology. Even ten minutes throughout the day can do wonders to aid in building metacognition.
I personally meditate right after waking up in the morning and have been doing so for almost 8 months. I have noticed a massively increased ability to reflect on my thoughts and realize how misguided and dumb some of them are.
If you want to start your own meditation routine but are scared to do it on your own, I would recommend using an amazing app called Headspace. It has a ton of courses made to guide you through starting a meditation practice.
If we start to question our every thought, won't we develop super low self-esteem?
Becoming wise is not a matter of having low self-confidence. It's about being grounded and recognizing we're flawed and fallible: in other words having a growth mindset. Confidence is simply a measure of how much you believe in yourself. Evidence has shown that this is actually distinct from how much you believe in your methods.
You can be confident in your ability to achieve some goal in the future while at the same time questioning whether you have the right tools in the present. This is known as confident humility.
Having confident humility in tandem with Imposter Syndrome gives us three benefits.
- It can motivate us to work harder. We know there are others working with better tools and we need to learn to keep up with them.
- It can motivate us to work smarter. Having confident humility puts us in the beginner's mindset, leading us to question assumptions others have taken for granted.
- Having doubts about our knowledge and skills makes us seek out better alternatives. The fear of embarrassing ourselves in front of others is a strong motivator to set better systems.
After Grant sat down with Halla, she explained her past doubts had been debilitating to her success in various endeavors. After adopting a sense of confident humility, however, she interpreted her doubts as cues she needed to improve her tools.
Her Imposter Syndrome no longer was the crux of her doubts but actually became part of her success.
😃Chapter 3: The Joy of Being Wrong
"The goal is not to be wrong more often. It’s to recognize we’re all wrong more often than we’d like to admit, and the more we deny it, the deeper the hole we dig for ourselves." - Adam Grant
A couple of months ago I was cutting garlic while cooking with my brother and cousin Gustavo. I had been cooking for a good part of my life but only recently started trying to get past level 1 home-cooking: smashing things together and heating them in the pan.
As I was peeling the garlic, Gustavo looked at me strangely.
"You're doing it wrong," he said.
"Huh, I have been peeling garlic my whole life."
He took the garlic and hammered it down with the flat edge of one of our knives. Then he peeled off the outer layer in a matter of seconds.
I stood there awestruck. I had been peeling garlic wrong my entire life. With my process, I had probably wasted hours of my life. The issue was solved, in a matter of seconds.
Instead of getting mad at Gustavo I thanked him and began to peel the rest of the garlic with a newfound enthusiasm.
This is not the normal response.
The totalitarian ego
When a core belief is questioned, we tend to shut down rather than open up. This is because of the totalitarian ego. The being clings to hard-held beliefs because changing would mean losing our sense of identity.
To stop this from happening we need to detach from two things:
- Detach your present from your past
- Detach your identity from your opinions
Detaching your present from your past makes you realize you can change right now. Just because your past self was ignorant doesn't mean you have to be.
Detaching your identity from your opinions makes it much easier to shift your beliefs and switch tools. Define yourself as someone who forms the best opinions or beliefs based on your current limited knowledge.
I hold the habit of rethinking as one of the most critical parts of my identity. This makes it vastly easier to rethink and pivot because it reinforces my identity rather than breaking it.
You can ask any of my friends what I was like 2 years ago compared to 1 year ago compared to 6 months ago compared to now. Every single one will probably say I am unrecognizable at each of the time frames.
As Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio told Grant, “If you don’t look back at yourself and think, ‘Wow, how stupid I was a year ago,’ then you must not have learned much in the last year.”
Why is this so scary? Are there more things we can do?
Even if you do these two things it can still be hard to adopt the habit of rethinking. At the moment, separating your past self from your current self can be unsettling. Evolving your identity can leave you feeling derailed and disconnected.
There are two additional ways I have found helpful to overcome this.
In addition to separating your identity from your opinions, think of your identity in terms of what you value rather than what you believe. I and my YouTube team personally value passionate learning, honesty about thoughts, hatred of perfectionism, and gratefulness.
Defining ourselves on these metrics makes change much less scary as most of the time the values stay the same: it's only the tools or beliefs that change.
The second thing we can do is laugh at ourselves more. Research shows that if we are comfortable being wrong, we're not afraid to poke fun at ourselves.
Instead of beating ourselves up about past mistakes, we can turn our ignorance and stupidity into sources of present amusement.
I now laugh when I peel garlic shells. The only thing I can do is think about how much time I wasted doing it improperly beforehand.
It's easy to think others will judge us for rethinking or admitting past faults. Human beings are universally scared of the unknown. The thought some of our most loved friends, family, and colleagues will change fills many with a deep sense of terror.
It doesn't have to be this way. There are many cases where someone's willingness to admit fault and try again has been commended spectacularly.
The Astrophysicist's "amazing" discovery
British physicist Andrew Lyne is a fantastic example of this power
In the early 1990s, he published a major discovery in the most prestigious science journal. He presented the first evidence it was possible for a planet to orbit a neutron star-a star that had exploded into a supernova.
He realized several months later he had failed to adjust for the fact that earth moves in an elliptical orbit and not a circular one. This of course meant that he was embarrassingly, horribly wrong. In front of hundreds of his most trusted colleagues and friends, Andrew walked onto the stage and admitted his tragic mistake.
Instead of being berated for his stupidity and ignorance, the room exploded in a standing ovation. One fellow astrophysicist actually called it the "most honorable thing he had ever seen."
Andrew Lyne is not alone. Psychologists find admitting we were wrong doesn’t make us look less competent. It’s a display of honesty and a willingness to learn.
🏗️Chapter 4: The Psychology of Constructive Conflict
“A critic is someone who comes onto the battlefield after the battle is over and shoots the wounded” - Anne Lamott
Over the summer before going to college, my brother, dad, and I decided to go on a hiking trip to Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks. Sometime during the afternoon we came to our camping spot and got out the hammocks we had brought from home.
My brother and I were both incredibly excited. We had brought lots of good food and were about to get to eat it while sitting in the hammock. As we got our hammocks out, however, we couldn’t find one of the stakes for hooking my brother's hammock to the tree.
I was the one who packed.
Immediately, it turned into an absolute blaming fiasco. My brother pelted me with comments like "how could you forget the hammock stake. You are such a bad packer." I fought back with comments like "maybe we would have the stakes if you had actually helped pack you lazy--." I think you can guess what was after.
We didn’t have constructive conflict. We assaulted each other with petty remarks meant to do nothing but make the other side mad.
The worst part is we actually did get both hammocks set up using some critical thinking skills and resourcefulness. It took way longer than it should have.
Grant defines two types of conflict in the book: relationship conflict and task conflict.
- Task conflicts are constructive debates about ideas and opinions.
- Relationship conflicts are personal, emotional clashes filled not only with friction but with animosity
Our hammock clash was a classic case of relationship conflict.
Yet studies show to function as a true team, task conflict is the way to go. A few years ago, Grant surveyed several teams on their first six months working together in Silicon Valley.
The study required them to agree on what conflict they were having every single time they disagreed on something. They could agree on nothing else, but they had to come to a consensus on that.
By far, the most effective teams were the ones that engaged in more task conflict than relationship conflict.
The teams who resorted to relationship conflict were so busy disliking each other they didn't feel comfortable questioning key processes or systems.
How do we prime ourselves for constructive task conflict?
Rethinking requires us to set systems in place where we will be told when we are doing things in an unproductive manner. It doesn't work to wait until somebody points out your shortcomings when they happen.
You need a group of people who you trust to help point out our blind spots and help overcome weaknesses.
When Grant writes a book, he enlists his own challenge network to be his proofreading squad. When he hands them the drafts of chapters he gives them one job: tear the thing apart. They don't destroy his book because they hate Grant and like criticizing others: they destroy it because they care.
The older we get, the fewer people we will have in our lives to keep us in check. Building your challenge network is literally a race against time. If you don't build it fast enough, you will be stuck in the perpetual cycle of self egotism adults are secretly inside of right now.
Disagreeable and Agreeable
Ideally, we want our challenge network to be filled with disagreeable people. Disagreeable people tend to be more critical, skeptical, and challenging.
Agreeable people, however, tend to be nice and shy away from conflict of any kind.
Disagreeing often brings with it many negative connotations like arguing and fighting. Disagreeing doesn't necessarily have to bring about these things as long as you challenge other people's thoughts and ideas rather than the people themselves.
It's actually the highest form of respect you can give to someone to disagree with one of their ideas. It means you value their views enough that you are willing to try and change them.
If you didn't value their opinion, you wouldn't bother except if you were trying to prove yourself right.
How do we stay cool?
Of course, there will always be an innate part of us that hates being wrong.
We need a way other than the ones already mentioned to make sure our task conflict with our challenge network doesn't turn into relationship conflict.
Experiments show simply reframing something as a debate rather than as an argument or disagreement shows you are receptive to alternate opinions and willing to change your mind.
I find one of the best questions you can ask someone if your debate is getting nowhere is, "what am I missing?" Once the other side has responded you can follow it up by saying, "help me understand."
We have now talked about some of the most critical steps to becoming a better intrapersonal thinker. Of course, this world is made up of billions of other people and you need to know how to help them rethink as well. In the next part, Grant and I will delve more into the use of debating and rethinking for interpersonal rethinking.
Part II: Interpersonal Rethinking
🎤Chapter 5: How to Win Debates and Influence People
"People who view negotiation as a battle of arguments become overwhelmed by the voices in their head. Negotiation is not an act of battle; it’s a process of discovery. The goal is to uncover as much information as possible" - Chris Voss
More Coffee Please
During the winter break of 2022 at Cornell, I went on a mission to change my dad's coffee drinking habits. When I started my own coffee drinking habit, I had made sure to research how to drink it sustainably: he was breaking practically every single rule in the rule book.
I remember days where he would come down and start to fill his cup while I sat at the kitchen counter in the morning. I would tell him how he would feel later in the day if he drank coffee right then.
It was clear he didn't want to believe I was correct. He loved his coffee. And who could blame him? Sugar, cow's milk, and black coffee are a pretty amazing combination.
When he would ask me why he shouldn't drink it right then I would pelt him with reasons: you haven't given time for the half-life of Caffeine to occur, you are drinking too early, you are drinking too late, you are drinking too much, you are drinking to close together. The list was endless.
Every single time he would pick what he thought was the weakest reason and tell me it why it was wrong. I was so annoyed. In my head, all I could think was, "how the heck does this man not get it? I gave him an essay's worth of reasons."
Then it hit me.
Less is more
Most people think of arguments as a scale. The more reasons we can pile up on our side, the more it will tip the balance in our favor. Often the exact opposite effect happens. As Rackham put it, “A weak argument generally dilutes a strong one.” In a debate, it's sometimes better to stick to one or two bulletproof arguments and try and nail in those.
Of course, there are still times when being a preacher or prosecutor is the better course of action. If the person you are talking to is not invested in your issue or receptive to your perspective, more reasons can actually be better. In this case, they will often see quantity as a sign of quality, and preacher mode wouldn't be bad.
If they are resistant to thinking, however, more reasons will simply give them ammunition to shoot you down. As soon as they dismantle one of your arguments they will wrongly think they have you beat.
Don’t give them the ammunition.
Try to understand
The difference between an average negotiator and a great one is massive. Average negotiators are more likely to enter defend attack spirals in which they dismissively shoot down their opponent's proposals and double down on their own positions.
This isn't a debate but an argument. In a debate, both sides come in with their own beliefs and hopes for an outcome. In a true debate, however, both sides are willing to shift their beliefs if they can be convinced of strong enough evidence from the other side.
Questions stand at the forefront of debates. Expert negotiators ask way more questions than average ones. This makes them appear less assertive by letting their counterparts step forward.
Questions show you are trying to learn. As long as you refrain from using "Why" questions like stated earlier, the other side will almost always appreciate the gesture to explain their points to you.
If you aren't willing to change, then you aren't debating but shoving your ego in the other person's face.
If you find yourself in a heated argument, there is always the option to ask, "what evidence would change your mind? If the answer is "nothing," stop the debate right then and there. As the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it think.
Admit good points
When we concede someone else has made a good point, we signal we’re not preachers, prosecutors, or politicians trying to advance an agenda. We’re scientists trying to get to the truth.
In most debates, both sides immediately go for the straw man argument. They dismantle the weakest point.
Grant brings up the example of expert debater Harish to counter this idea. Harish likes to do the reverse: he looks at the strongest version of their case, the steel man, and accepts their point is valid. This shows Harris's openness. It opens up the debate table for a much more lucrative and curious conversation.
People have a deep-seated craving to be understood. Show them you understand one of their points and they will like you.
⚖️Chapter 6: Diminishing Prejudice by Destabilizing Stereotypes
"People say yes to someone they consider one of them. The experience of “we”-ness (unity) with others is about shared identities—tribe-like categories individuals use to define themselves and their groups, such as race, ethnicity, nationality, and family, as well as political-religious affiliations." - Robert B. Cialdini
A Hockey match to remember
A couple of nights ago I was watching a hockey game between Cornell and Colgate in my friend, Andrej's dorm room. I remember at one point in the game Cornell made an amazing goal and we both jumped up in joy cheering for our team. Yet, I grew up in the small rural town of Hamilton, New York.
Colgate was much closer to my heart than Cornell.
I went to sports games there, have friends who took classes there and still have a father who teaches Russian Literature in the building. I was part of the tribe of Colgate.
Despite this, when I came to Cornell and was exposed to a different tribe, it only took a few months for me to switch allegiances. I could have easily have cheered for Colgate during the hockey game. Surrounded by friends who were all cheering for Cornell, however, I didn't dare do so.
The power of tribe
Humans have a deep need to feel unity as part of a tribe. Since our time as hunter-gatherers, we needed to be certain those in our "we" group would not betray us while hunting mammoths and running from saber tooth tigers. This made sense.
The problem today comes with how much we prioritize those in our group over others.
Grant brings up rivalries in sports. A rivalry is present when we reserve special animosity for a group we see as competing with our group for resources or threatening our identity.
As our animosity builds and we start to interact with the other group in pleasant conversation less often, stereotypes almost inevitably form. This causes us to not only to identify more with our group but disidentify with our adversaries, coming to define who we are by what we aren't.
Group polarization and stereotype threat.
Socially there is another reason these stereotypes are so sticky. We tend to interact more and more with those who share those stereotypes. This is a phenomenon known as group polarization.
Group polarization is particularly bad because over time it can cause the groups subject to the stereotype to actually exhibit it. This is known as stereotype threat.
Researchers Spencer, Steel, and Quinn, showed its terrible power when administrating a test to both men and women. In one case they told the women the test had shown significant gender differences whereas in the other they didn't.
Those who were told the test had gender differences did significantly worse than men even though the women were top performers in math.
The three hypotheses to changing this mindset
Grant explains there are three hypothesizes to changing the way we adopt stereotypes in our lives.
Hypothesis 1: Not in a league of their own
- It's probably not going to happen to your or me in our lifetime but it has been shown leaving Earth is a fantastic way to rethink your feelings about other human beings.
- Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell reflected upon going to space, "You develop an instant global consciousness . . . an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics looks so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a b*tch.’”
- This is a reaction known as the overview effect
Hypothesis 2: Feeling for our foes
- Another method Grant has seen used to destroy stereotypes is turning to the psychology of peace. Years ago the psychologist Herb Kelman tried to break the stereotypes between the Israel-Palestine conflict by teaching the two sides to understand and empathize with one another. He designed interactive problem-solving workshops in which influential Israeli and Palestinian leaders talked off the record about paths to peace.
- For years they addressed each other's fears and came together to share their own experiences and perspectives. Over time the workshops didn't only shatter stereotypes: some of the people who participated went on to make lifelong friendships.
- In an ideal world, this would cause us to shatter our stereotypes about that group. The problem is oftentimes when we meet group members who defy a stereotype, we see them as an exception to the group rather than an indication that the stereotype is wrong.
Hypothesis 3: Beasts of Habit
- In ancient Greece, Plutarch wrote of a wooden ship Theseus sailed from Crete to Athens. Athenians replaced the ship with new wood because its old wood had decayed. Eventually, all the planks got replaced. It looked and sailed like the same ship but none of its parts were the same.
- Grant relates this ship to the sports franchise. If you hail from Boston, you might hate the 1920 Yankees for taking Babe Ruth or the 1978 Yankees for dashing your World Series hopes. Although the current team carries the same name, the pieces are different. The players are long gone. So are the managers and coaches. The stadium has been replaced.
- Why do these sports fans keep stereotyping a group that isn't even the same? The true reason people stereotype others is probably that it's a ritual: a ceremony that people employ out of habit. There are of course times in your life when being part of a tribe will matter but if you really think about it it's much more an act of birth.
- This means if we can change the ritual in some way, break the habit of stereotyping people we barely know, we can stop the awful stereotyping craze.
Counterfactual thinking in psychology involves imagining how the circumstances of our lives could have turned out differently. Realizing we could have easily held different stereotypes makes us much more willing to update our views.
Grant decided he would do this with Yankees and Red Sox fans. He set up a study where Yankees fans and Red Sox fans described each other in one word. He then collected all of these words and showed them to the teams from both perspectives.
The words Yankees used to describe Red Sox fans were almost the exact same as the words that Red Sox fans used to describe Yankees fans. Some of the highlights were loud, annoying, and mean.
Grant then added another piece to the cake by randomly assigning half of them to go the extra step of reflecting on the arbitrariness of their animosity. He asked them to think about how their life would be different if they were simply born into a family that was Yankee fans instead of Red Sox fans.
This didn’t change the player's sympathies for another on the rival team: it changed it for the team as a whole. They were less likely to see criticism of their rival as good, less likely to see their rivals' failure as a success, and more likely to support their rival team in ways which would normally be unthinkable: wearing rival team's jerseys, voting for its players in the All-Star Game, and even endorsing the team on social media.
The habit was broken.
This type of rethinking applies everywhere.
You can activate this thinking by asking the other side questions like "How would your stereotypes be different if you’d been born Black, 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?"
Questions like these help you understand the other side. You can’t hide behind your biases and stereotypes anymore. A meta-analysis of over 500 studies showed interacting with members of another group reduced prejudice by 94% of cases. Stereotypes are easy to build if we exist in a culture that believes the same thing.
👂Chapter 7: Listening to Change People's Minds
"When I’m listening to you, it’s infinitely more important for me to listen to me than to listen to you. Of course, it’s important to listen to you, but it’s more important I listen to me. Otherwise, I won’t be hearing you." - Anthony De Mello and J. Francis Stroud
Listening is hard
Often, we try to convince people to think again, by talking. Ironically, the most effective way to help others open their minds is to listen.
Ironically listening is much harder than talking. You have to pay attention to the other side as well as yourself. How are your beliefs and stereotypes influencing how you hear what they are saying? Are you hearing only what you want to hear because of confirmation bias? Are you trying to debate the idea or the other person?
Questions like these will allow us to become more active listeners.
It's easy to think we have to talk to the other person in order to help them. If they come to us with a problem, they must be asking for help, right? Asking questions and listening, however, allows the other person to think more deeply about their problems with our guidance.
The writer E.M. Forster once put it, "How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?"
We often don't know what our thoughts are on a topic or thing until we have said something about it. Questioning is the way we get people to uncover their own ideas about things.
We want the other side to believe they came to the conclusion or solution themselves. This is because of something known as the Ikea effect. The Ikea effect makes us like ideas or things that we have had a part in more than those we haven’t.
Say we went to Ikea and bought a piece of furniture premade. Not only is the furniture crap, because it's from Ikea, be we had no part in its creation. Now say we went to Ikea and bought the pieces for some furniture. We got home and assembled the whole thing ourselves.
Well, it's still crap because it's from Ikea but hey! That's OUR crap piece of furniture.
This works the same way with influencing others. Make them think they came to an idea themselves and they will be more likely to implement and utilize it.
These active listening techniques culminate in one of the most effective influencing skills that has ever come about: motivational interviewing. Motivational interviewing works on the philosophy that we are better at helping the other side come to a solution than offering one ourselves.
Our role is to hold up a mirror so the other side can see themselves clearly, empowering them to examine their beliefs and behaviors. Motivational interviewing involves three key techniques: asking open-ended questions, engaging in reflective listening, and affirming the other side's desire and ability to change.
- The first step of motivational interviewing is to ask open-ended questions. These are questions that usually start with the words "What" or "How." Questions like these invite the other side to explain and give insight into their perspective. Asking questions that led to one-word answers or that start with "Why" are the exact opposite of this. We want the other side to talk as much as they can.
- The second step is to engage in reflective listening. While they are talking and explaining their side, we listen attentively. We show them they have our utmost attention. While listening, we try and truly understand their perspective. Why do they feel the way they do? What motivates them? What could persuade them to change?
- The third step of motivational interviewing is affirming their desire or ability to change. We need to be listening intently for change talk and sustain talk. Sustain talk is talk pointing to the other side remaining with the status quo. This is what we are trying to point them away from with our questions. Change talk is referencing a desire, ability, need, or commitment to adjustment. As soon as we hear the other side talk about change talk and they finish speaking, we affirm or ask further about their desire or ability to do so.
By following the three steps of motivational interviewing, it's truly amazing what you can influence some of your friends, family members, or others to do. Motivational interviewing is used around the world by tens of thousands of practitioners to help people with their diets, gambling, eating disorders, exercise, and so much more.
They think they came to the conclusions themselves. In reality, we were guiding them the whole way.
Don't make it obvious
Grant explains the one caveat to motivational interviewing is we can't go in or at least make it obvious we are going in with the desire to influence.
Psychologists have found people who detect an attempt to influence, have sophisticated defense mechanisms. Our behavior takes on a different meaning in their eyes. Motivational interviewing is an art. On one side, you have to attempt to convince the other side of something while simultaneously not revealing your intention to do so.
Over the past couple of months, I have been trying to help my dad with his bad sleep habits. It's been quite a journey. He has gone through many different phases both good and bad.
Whenever he comes down in the morning and I am sitting at the kitchen table, he will often tell me how bad his sleep was during the night. I often ask him questions like, "What do you think made your sleep so bad?" and "How do you think you can make it better in the future?"
Sometimes he spots I am trying to influence him but other times I am able to get away with it. Motivational interviewing takes time. Don't be phased if it extends over days, weeks, months, or even years in the most radical of circumstances.
The righting reflex
The righting reflex as psychologists Miller and Rollnick describe it, is the desire to fix problems and offer answers.
Human beings have an innate desire to right wrongs. This is why we struggle to hide our purposes in motivational interviewing. A skilled motivational interviewer, however, is able to resist the righting reflex. They realize oftentimes when people tell you of your problems they are simply looking for sympathy or venting rather than advice or solutions.
Motivational interviewing is a powerful tool but it's only one technique in the arsenal of the active listener. Being a good active listener means knowing when to help the other person and when to simply listen.
Part III: Collective Rethinking
🛠️Chapter 8: Depolarizing our Divided Discussions
"We’re swift to recognize when other people need to think again. We question the judgment of experts whenever we seek out a second opinion on a medical diagnosis. Unfortunately, when it comes to our own knowledge and opinions, we often favor feeling right over being right." - Adam Grant
A few years ago I was sitting in one of my good friend's barns on the couch with my brother and a couple of other friends. My brother and our friend, Henry, were arguing over obesity and its causes.
My brother was radically on one side of the issue, ranting over how anyone who was obese was at fault for letting themselves end up that way. They could stop eating junk food and start moving more. Our friend Henry, was completely on the other side. He explained it was a result of their life circumstances rather than their choices that led to their obesity.
This wasn't a debate, it was a full-fledged ego battle between two sides who had completely opposite opinions. Neither side was willing to give any ground and nothing fruitful came from the whole affair for the entire two hours the war went on.
Looking back on the argument after reading Think Again, I think I know exactly why neither side could come to any type of consensus.
Knowing an alternate opinion exists is not enough to change our opinion. In fact, sometimes it makes it easier to stick to your own sides beliefs and ideas. This is because most people present only two sides to an issue when arguing.
They create artificial polarization.
Psychologists call this effect binary bias. It's a basic human tendency to seek clarity and closure by simplifying a complex continuum into two categories. When we separate an issue into two rigid sides, it leaves no room for complexity. There is no middle ground. Both sides feel like if they change any part of their opinion they will be forced to completely shift their view on an issue radically changing their identity.
The war between Henry and my brother was a classic example of this. Both sides had set themselves on opposite extremes of the issue of obesity. They defined no middle ground. There was no room for rethinking.
What is the antidote?
People are more likely to think again if we present the topics through this sort of lens as their sense of identity isn't at severe risk by switching sides. Switching from a severe belief of something to a slightly less severe one is much less intimidating from completely flipping sides.
As consumers of information on the internet, it's our duty to make sure we don't fall into echo chambers. When we're reading, listening, or watching anything we should learn to recognize complexity as a sign of credibility.
Caveats and contingencies
Scientists convey complexities in their research all the time.
They include caveats in their studies: a warning or proviso of specific stipulations, conditions, or limitations. One study is rarely ever conclusive and researchers typically feature multiple papers in their research articles pointing to this fact.
This same thing can be done with contingencies: questions about when and where results will be reversed, replicated, or nullified. In other words, the places or populations where an effect may change.
It's through caveats and contingencies Grant came across one of his and now my favorite philosophies ever. John Rawls upholds the veil of ignorance philosophy. It asks us to evaluate the justice of a society by whether we'd join it without knowing our place in it.
You can even translate this same philosophy to science: ask whether we'd accept the results of a study based on the methods involved without knowing what the conclusion will be.
Perspective-taking vs. seeking
Many people give the advice when we are debating with someone we should try and take the other person's perspective: step into their own shoes. This advice has the right idea but it fails to take into account one thing: we're terrible mind readers.
We're just guessing.
Instead, do what good scientists do: noticing a pattern here? Try and adopt a perspective-seeking mindset by asking questions and formulating hypotheses to gain insight into the nuances of their view.
Don't be rid of emotion
To do this effectively, Grant says you have to allow your emotions or feelings to be influenced by the other side.
This made me cringe when I first read it. I have come from the world of the Stoics and have long held the belief emotions are a confusing and often detrimental thing. Humans are incredibly irrational creatures. You only have to look at the emotions we hold to someone who accidentally shoves us over at the supermarket to see why.
In the spirit of rethinking, however, I was willing to hear him out.
Grant explains studies show even if we disagree strongly with someone on a social issue when we discover she cares deeply about the issue, we trust her more. It's not the expression of emotion which stands in the way of rethinking but rather a restricted range of emotion that we believe we even have.
Similar to falling for binary bias on degrees of an issue we easily fall for binary bias when it comes to emotion as well.
This blew my mind when I first heard it. Of course, we can have varying degrees of emotion! It doesn't have to be black and white between calm and angry. Grant convinced my Stoic self of the complexity of this issue. Hey, the spirit of thinking again comes across by the person making the book summary!
🏢CHAPTER 10: Building Cultures of Learning at Work
"Community is an amorphous thing. It can’t be fully planned or predicted. It often takes the form of inside jokes, nicknames, origin stories, and unspoken values. But we can intentionally create the conditions for community to emerge." - Tiago Forte
During my first semester of College at Cornell, I joined the Part-Time YouTuber Academy community as a member of cohort 4.
I instantly fell in love.
The lectures inside of the course were pure gold. I was able to learn more about operating an effective YouTube channel in six weeks than in the entire 7 months beforehand. I found the most valuable part of the course, however, came from the community. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was in an environment where everyone around me had a passion for something.
I went on calls and participated in community discussions with other members to learn more about every aspect of YouTube when it came to thumbnail generation, recording, scripting, editing, and so much more.
Being part of such a sphere of passionate and kind-hearted people, I naturally ingrained many of the beliefs and philosophies many of the members had. I entered a beautiful state of passion and purpose in my work I can't describe to someone who wasn't a part of the community.
The good news is this isn't the only community there is.
The world is communities
Nowadays the world is built of communities. It could be communities in your hometown, communities at school/college, or communities at work.
The beliefs, stereotypes, and habits of the people in our communities have a massive influence on the way we develop in them. This is why building cultures of learning in individual teams is essential. It will naturally spread to the rest of the team's community. It's much easier to think of changing a community at the team level than the entire community in one fell swoop.
For instance, many organizations when implementing the EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) into their business for the first time start with their leadership team and allow it to ebb and flow to the rest of the organization.
If they tried implementing it in the entire organization at once, it could easily spell chaos especially if the organization is very large.
This begs the question: how do we build learning communities in our teams?
Grant was involved in a study at Google to identify the factor distinguishing teams with super high performance from those that didn't perform nearly as well. The single biggest factor when it came to team performance wasn't who was on the team or even how meaningful their work was: it was psychological safety.
Psychological safety is how safe people in your team or organization feel speaking their minds or voicing their opinion. If your team is comfortable calling each other out on mishaps and voicing opinions, there is high psychological safety.
Remember back to chapter four on task and relationship conflict. It's essential when building psychological safety in your team that it comes from task conflict.
My TEDxCornell team
I can find no better example of a good case of psychological safety than in my TEDxCornell team. Our main goal as a team is to find speakers inside and outside of the Cornell community we believe have ideas worth spreading. We help these speakers refine their talks for our yearly event which usually has over 500 participants!
Narrowing down a pool of people to choose from is incredibly difficult. We have to try our hardest not to pick the applicant we contacted. We need to be open to speakers we know nothing about. Every single team meeting we had, people would openly admit when they were biased as well as speak up when someone from the group said something they disagreed with.
I can say I always feel welcome to speak to the group whenever there is something I believe must be said. It may seem like psychological safety is the ultimate golden card to achieving success in a team, but there is still one major caveat that can make it practically useless in the long term.
New advice for managers
Psychological safety erases the fear of challenging authority but it doesn't necessarily motivate us to question authority in the first place. Good psychological safety leads people to think about the best practices existing in the workplace.
Often times organizations will create best practices in performance. They find a great way to do a sales pitch and create a checklist or script to follow through every single time. They then take this script, print it out, laminate it, and file it to every single person in the sales team never to be touched again.
This isn’t promoting rethinking.
I take a slightly different approach in my YouTube business. I have a publishing checklist and editing checklist gone through every single time a video gets published or edited. This brings clarity and scalability to our business process. Even though I haven’t uploaded in months, I am confident I could run through the checklist in case my uploader couldn’t.
Our processes are easily editable and reflect the change across every single script in our database. One day when we have sponsors, for instance, we will be able to easily add a sponsor checklist to the uploading checklist as well.
What makes our process blossom from psychological safety whereas the others don't?
Process accountability leads people to rethink key business processes. It involves shedding the idea your "best practices" are your best practices. They are only the best practices you have right now.
If you don't have a way to change the best practices in your organization, they will inevitably remain good practices: never morphing to reflect changing times.
Amy Edmondson explains when there's accountability but no safety, people tend to stay silent in their anxiety zone, when there's safety but no accountability, people tend to stay within their comfort zone. It's when both are combined we get the ideal outcome known as a learning zone.
To do this effectively, teams need to accept proof is the enemy of progress. If you require proof to change your best practices they will never change. It's better to try out a new idea for a bit and see what happens.
If it ends up going horribly, you can scrap it and switch it out for the old best practice. We need to look at the long term here. Sure, the short-term pain from switching best practices might suck but it's the long-term gain we are really concerned with.
🎯CHAPTER 11: Reconsidering our best-laid Career and Life plans
“What you can plan is too small for you to live.” - Jenny Blake
Grant's least favorite question during childhood was, "what do you want to be when you grow up?" It seemed like no matter what he said anybody who asked would never like his answer. He went from NBA player, to astronaut, to superhero.
It never clicked.
Like Grant, we all have notions of who we want to be and how we want to lead our lives. It's not only about the careers will have. At an early age, we develop ideas on who we want to marry, how many kids we want to have, which school we will attend, and where we will live.
The dangerous part of plans like these is they can give us tunnel vision. We become beholden to certain options. Unfortunately, when we experience pain in our careers or other life plans, our first instinct is almost never to rethink but rather to double down and remain steadfast in our commitments.
Tim Ferris says it perfectly in the four-hour workweek: "Most who avoid quitting their jobs entertain the thought their course will improve with time or increases in income. This seems valid and is a tempting hallucination when a job is boring or uninspiring instead of pure hell. Pure hell forces action, but anything less can be endured with enough clever rationalization."
This thought pattern has a name: the escalation of commitment.
The dark side of grit
Grit is often seen as an incredibly good trait to have: a combination of passion and perseverance. In lots of cases, it's a great trait to have. When it comes to rethinking, however, grit may have a terrible dark side.
Experiments have shown people with grit are more likely to stay committed to a career they hate because they get stuck to the idea of "staying the course." Grit often leads to people developing identity foreclosure: when we close our mind to alternative selves by settling prematurely on a sense of self without enough due diligence.
Unfortunately, this identity foreclosure often begins when we ask kids the question, "what do you want to be when you grow up?"
Michelle Obama wrote she thinks it's one of the most useless questions you can ask a kid. It makes the kid believe growing up is finite. That at some point you become something and it’s the end.
It's not only careers
We foreclose on all types of things in life. Deciding to start college during the pandemic only to realize we should have considered a gap year. Ending a romantic relationship because we don't want kids only to realize years down the road we might after all.
It's essentially the opposite of an identity crisis. Instead of accepting uncertainty about who we are we convince ourselves to a rigid plan seemingly at random. He has noticed often the students most certain about their career paths coming into college are the ones most regretful 20 years later.
To make matters worse, by the time people discover the choice they made was the wrong fit, they often feel it's too late to think again: the sacrifices to salary, status, skill, and time seem too great. So you all are clear, I think it's better to lose the past two or more years of progress in your life than waste the next twenty to forty.
Grant’s advice is to take the same approach health care professionals do in their careers. Like we make appointments with health care professionals when nothing is wrong we should schedule times in our calendars to ask some key questions to ourselves as a check-up on our careers and life in general.
Questions like "when did you form the aspirations you are currently pursuing, and how have you changed since then? and "Have you reached a learning plateau in your role or workplace, and is it time to consider a pivot?"
I do this very same thing during my nightly journaling, weekly reviews, and yearly reviews. Every single night I write down the most prominent things that happened in my day: things I want to know will be nice to look back upon down the line. I also write down my favorite idea I have been thinking of as well as the best thing I learned that day. In addition, I will write down any anxieties or fears I am having and what I would like to do better tomorrow.
My favorite questions might be what I ask myself during my yearly reviews. During this sacred time, I go through an 80/20 analysis of my year as a whole. An 80/20 analysis works off the idea that often 20% of the inputs account for 80% of the outputs. This idea works across an insane number of mediums.
When going through my 80/20 analysis of my year, I ask myself what 20% of things account for 80% of my happiness as well as what 20% of things account for 80% of my unhappiness. When I did this last year, I realized one of my favorite things to do was write book summaries like these! I also found out some of my old friends I met during my first semester at Cornell were leading to negativity and a toxic outlook on life because of their constant complaining.
In response, I scheduled more time to make book summaries and stopped seeing those old friends!
Think like a scientist
Rethinking Life and career plans comes back to thinking like a scientist. Grant says one of his favorite people in outlining this process is his colleague Herminia Ibarra.
She says the first step is to entertain possible selves: identify some people you admire within or outside your field and observe what they actually do at work on a day-to-day basis. The second step is to hypothesize how these things might align with your values, passions, and skills. The third step is to test out different identities by running experiments doing informational interviews, job shadowing, and sample projects to get a taste of the work.
These same principles and steps can be applied to anything in life. Considering starting a home cooking journey? Considering starting your own YouTube channel? Considering moving to the Bahamas and spending the rest of your days drinking margaritas and playing Settlers of Catan with your friends?
Design experiments, test hypotheses and figure out if you like that sort of life before accepting it into your identity.
Ultimately the end goal of all of this is one thing: happiness. After all, what is the point in going through this whole career process and learning more if not to be happier? Aristotle explains in his book Nichomachean ethics (which I have written a book summary on) every single thing in life has an End: a reason that we do it. The shipbuilder's End is making a ship. The legislator's End is creating laws.
Happiness is the only thing in life that has no End. You achieve happiness for the sake of achieving happiness.
You would think that with the coming of the internet and all these other technologies, we would be happier than ever. Wrong. According to the World Happiness Report, which ranks 156 countries by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be, people living in the United States reported being less happy in 2018 than they were in 2008.
Why is this?
Grant points out four possible reasons for this terrible drop in happiness:
- Pursuing happiness: we might be spending much time worrying about if we are happy that we end up not being happy. Happiness isn't something that you choose to be. You just are. You will be walking down the street and all of a sudden realize, "oh wow, I am happy."
- Pursuing peak happiness: we spend so much time looking for peak happiness in small uncommon events that we forget happiness matters more on the frequency of positive events. Most of life is boring and unconventional. If you can’t learn to love these moments you will be in agony for most of your life
- Overemphasize pleasure: in her amazing book Dopamine Nation (another book I have written a summary on), Anna Lembke points out that Dopamine works on a positive-negative feedback loop. Pursuing peak pleasures makes it harder to find pleasure in more mundane things.
- Individual perception: western notions of happiness are more individual compared to eastern notions. We are more likely to as questions like, “what would make me happy? or “what do I have a passion for?” rather than trying to help the group as a whole.
To fix this issue, many try and go on breaks. They hate their careers and think that escaping from them will help. The issue is that this doesn't fix the problem at its core. Remember, you will still be on vacation. If you are sad where you are, and then you get on a plane to Italy, you in Italy will be the same sad you from before, in a new place.
As Ernest Hemingway wrote, “You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another.”
Instead of going on vacation, you should do what the Ancient Greeks preached, "know thyself." Figure out who you really are. What do you want to do with your life? What do you value? What hobbies or careers have you not given a fair try? Are you really who you think to be or playing a character that your past self forced on your decades or years ago.
Despite all of this preaching about switching careers and life situations, there are still times when grit is a good thing. When it comes to careers, instead of searching for the job where we’ll be happiest, we might be better off pursuing the job where we expect to learn and contribute the most.
In a study of entrepreneurs, the more effort they put into their startups, the more their enthusiasm about their businesses climbed each week. In Cal Newport’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, he explains the problem of causing your passion.
It’s common life advice that we should chase what brings us joy or makes time fly by. Newport argues it’s this very notion that makes us miserable. Many people don’t know what they are passionate about because they have never dived hard enough into something to see results.
Passion comes from honing a craft. I never thought I would enjoy writing as much as I do now. I love it. I love it so so much. Ask me a year ago if writing would be one of my favorite pastimes and I would have slapped you.
Don’t feel bad if you don’t know what you want to try out as your next career or life path. Most people around my age are partying and taking drugs to escape from life than ask these deep questions.
The older we get the more we search for meaning rather than simple pleasure. Grant and mines favorite test of meaningful work is to ask: if this job didn’t exist, how much worse off would people be?
These questions are all really hard. Remember at work and life the best we can do is only plan for what we want to contribute or learn over the next year or two, and stay open to what might come next. Grant adapts an analogy from E.L. Doctorow by saying 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.”
We don't have to be sure of what we will do in the next 20 years, 10 years, or even 2 years. Choosing can do more harm than good. There is one thing that we can be sure of at every stage of life, no matter what situation we are going through.
We can be sure that we will always need to Think Again.
If your interested in adopting the habit of rethinking into your life, you should check out my YouTube vide on building a consistent reading habit where I share:
- How to fight procrastination
- How to make reading fun
- How to reduce distractions
- How to set yourself up for success
- How to increase focus