Adam Grant, the Wharton Professor, talks about kindness in a way that gives form to an abstract idea and I have been a direct beneficiary of that. Adam Grant personally showed me a random act of kindness which I thought was nice and something that has stayed with me. A couple years ago, he sent me a DM on Twitter (now X) offering me a free copy of his new book, Think Again, and within a couple of weeks, it was delivered to my doorstep at no charge – from the US to Nigeria. It’s a book I could easily afford but the thoughtfulness to reach out to me made it a very invaluable gift and it’s stayed with me.
Perhaps, this is the biggest idea in the book, the fact that we need to rethink age-old ideas of how things have always been done and literally think, again. I loved this book because it made me rethink so many things that I’d believed without ever questioning their origin. The book was centred around a mindset triangle. 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. These three mindsets are the biggest hindrances to thinking again and the way to defeat them is to wear a fourth hat; the scientist mode. The Scientist mode leads you to question things.
There are too many gems in this book; another good one was Grant’s opinion that we should embrace the rigour of evidence over the lessons of experience as those can be very subjective. So here’s a list of some of the rigours of evidence gotten from the book:
- You know that famous story of a frog and how if you drop a frog in a pot of scalding hot water, it will immediately leap out? But if you drop the frog in lukewarm water and gradually raise the temperature, the frog will die because it’s not able to realise that the temperature of the water has changed. Well, Adam Grant researched this well-told fable and found a wrinkle: it isn’t true. Tossed into the scalding pot, the frog will get burned badly and may or may not escape. The frog is better off in the slow-boiling pot: it will leap out as soon as the water starts to get uncomfortably warm. It’s not the frogs who failed to reevaluate their environment; it’s us humans as Grant mentions. Once we heard the story and accepted it as the truth, we never bothered to question the core of the story.
- I learnt that what’s required for sight is not the eyes. Blind people can see without having eyes. What they need to “see” is the visual cortex and sound waves can activate this cortex and create representations in the mind’s eyes and blind people can “see”. It’s similar to how echolocation helps a bat navigate the dark. Yet another example of how to think again as we have been conditioned all along to think that sight comes from the eyes.
- I learnt about the psychology concept called the First Instinct Fallacy which essentially says that most times, our first reaction to events is rarely the correct one.
- WhatsApp actually became a thing because they were trying to solve the Blackberry problem that required a Blackberry before you could get a PIN. It’s funny because if the makers of Blackberry had been proactive to decentralise as they’d do much later, there’d have been no $19 billion for Jan Koum and Brian Acton to share.
- There was a lesson from the brilliant Daniel Kahneman about the three mindsets. Daniel Kahneman isn’t interested in preaching, prosecuting, or politicking. He’s a scientist devoted to the truth. How does Kahnemann stay in that Scientist mode? When I asked him how he stays in that mode, he said he refuses to let his beliefs become part of his identity. I change my mind at a speed that drives my collaborators crazy,” he explained. “My attachment to my ideas is provisional. There’s no unconditional love for them.”
- Grant describes his past self as Mr Facts, someone who was fixated on knowing instead of being focused on what he didn’t know. It’s something we should all think about and I loved the quote from Ray Dalio who said if you were to look at yourself a year ago and not think, “wow how stupid I was a year ago”, then it means you have not learnt a great deal.
- Something else from the book was this thing about detaching your opinion from your identity. So many people tie their opinions to who they are and it can crush them and also hinder them from gaining new knowledge as they are scared to change their opinions even when they are wrong because they are scared it would distort their identity.
- A good lesson for business leaders on building a team is that when you build a team, you should have people who you don’t agree with as part of the team; these contrarian people end up making the team better. He talked about the Wright Brothers who knew how to debate without any conflicts in the relationship. Choose debate over disagreements, he says. I agree with this too because debates help you stay focused on the issue at hand, while disagreements focus on the person.
- The secret to winning debates is not to attack your debater, it’s to agree with the points they have made, that weaken them instantly because we’re not thought to agree with our rivals. Then carefully pick holes in their points and make it better. Overcome people by being a “logic bully” (I loved this term), use rational arguments that make so much sense that they can’t pick holes in it. I think I used to do this but somehow I stopped. It’s why I was such a great debater in high school, I’d listen carefully to my co-debaters’ points and then when we had that last 60 seconds for closing remarks, I’d carefully tear their points down (while my co-debater used that time to reiterate their previous points or mention new points, I was focused on tearing their points down logically), of course, I mostly won.
- When trying to get people to do things, focus on one thing at a time. It was this point that made me get Gary Keller’s “The One Thing” book which is part of my reading list this year as I like the idea of getting people to do things by having them focus on just one thing at a time. Doing too many things at the same time cheats nature and leads to second-rate work.
- Personally, I am somewhat of an expert in getting people committed to their jobs and reading this book helped me realise why I was successful in doing that. One of the things Grant mentions is that the best person to get you to change your mind is you and not someone else, so when you want people to change their mind on a stance, get them to do it, don’t do it. It’s the same way to motivate employees, you show them that you value them first before you think of ways to motivate them. Value comes before motivation and most employers don’t get this, sadly..
- When arguing with people, take a moment ti find out why they are so upset and ask them what data can change their mind.
- On children, Grant says asking kids what they want to be when they grow up is wrong as this assumes that “growing up” is a finite stage. What this does is that kids grow up looking to achieve that thing and once they do, they lose motivation. Instead, make kids define their ambition by defining the kind of life they want. My life’s ambition is to be happy; now that can take various forms and lead me to several things.
- I loved this one – it is better to lose the past two years of progress than to waste the next twenty years. So many people hold on to things they shouldn’t and then end up losing out on the better part.
- This one on japa – Grant says that when things aren’t going well for people, they tend to relocate. However, location does not solve the problem of happiness, happiness is what we do, not where we are.
You should read the entire book if you haven’t had the chance to, my summary doesn’t do it justice. Adam Grant took his time to write this book and you can see the results. He released a new book late last year that’s in the same mould as Think Again and it’s already in my reading list for this year; it’s called Hidden Potential and talks about how to methodically achieve great results. I can’t wait to get into it. You shouldn’t too.
In the mould of thinking again, I will end this post with a question instead of a pleasantry; tell me something you have been thinking about lately.