Intellectual humility is understanding that you don’t know everything, that you are often wrong, and that it’s okay, even a good thing, to change your mind when new evidence presents itself. Needless to say, intellectual humility is a quality that is both sorely lacking and desperately needed right now. That’s why it is welcome news that award winning author and professor Adam Grant’s new book, Think Again, is finally out.
In Think Again, Grant argues that during an era in which our identities are getting more rigid—in no small part thanks to social media, political tribalism, and other idea-bubbles—it’s time to look the other way and focus on flexibility. You are not what you know or what you think. You are how you know and how you think.
Adam Grant is a pro’s pro when it comes to writing this kind of book. His prior books, Give and Take and Originals, were bestsellers, and for good reason. Grant does a masterful job of tying together science and story, and he writes with a unique cleverness that makes reading his books not only informative but also a fun intellectual rollercoaster. Rather than formally review the book, I’ll just give you eight of my favorite quotes from it, and then encourage you to pick up a copy.
“When people reflect on what it takes to be mentally fit, the first idea that comes to mind is usually intelligence. The smarter you are, the more complex problems you can solve—and the faster you can solve them. Intelligence is traditionally viewed as the ability to think and learn. Yet in a turbulent world, there’s another set of cognitive skills that might matter more: the ability to rethink and unlearn.”
“As we think and talk, we often slip into the mindsets of three different professions: preachers, prosecutors, and politicians. In each of these modes, we take on a particular identity and use a distinct set of tools. We go into preacher mode when our sacred beliefs are in jeopardy: we deliver sermons to protect and promote our ideals. We enter prosecutor mode when we recognize flaws in other people’s reasoning: we marshal arguments to prove them wrong and win our case. We shift into politician mode when we’re seeking to win over an audience: we campaign and lobby for the approval of our constituents…but there’s a fourth way to think, and that is the mode of a scientist.”
“The most effective leaders score high in both confidence AND humility. Although they have faith in their strengths, they’re also keenly aware of their weaknesses. They know they need to recognize and transcend their limits if they want to push the limits of greatness.”
“Two kinds of detachment are particularly useful [for clear thinking]: detaching your present from your past and detaching your opinions from your identity.”
“When you form an opinion, ask yourself what would have to happen to prove it false. Then keep track of your views so you can see when you were right, when you were wrong, and how your thinking has evolved.”
“In a heated argument with someone else, you can always stop and ask: ‘What evidence would change your mind?’ If the answer is ‘nothing,’ then there’s no point in continuing the debate.”
“When we come across simplifying headlines, we can fight our tendency to accept binaries by asking what additional perspectives are missing between the extremes?…’How do you know?’ It’s a question we need to ask more often, both of ourselves and others. The power lies in its frankness. It’s nonjudgmental—a straightforward expression of doubt and curiosity that doesn’t put people on the defensive.”
“Multiple experiments have shown that when experts express doubt, they become more persuasive. When someone knowledgeable admits uncertainty, it surprises people, and they end up paying more attention to the substance of their argument.”
These are just a handful of the many passages I underlined and took notes on. I hope you found them interesting and insightful. Think Again is a great book. It’s timeless, timely, chock full of practical wisdom and advice, and a whole lot of fun to read.
(When I recommend books I include a link to Amazon since that’s where most people buy books online; but I also encourage you to support your neighborhood bookseller! Whatever you prefer. I just want people to read good books!)