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The Wisdom in Thinking Again

By Karen Vally on 18 Jul 2021

Savage Chickens

"My hope is that you'll be intrigued by how I think - and that the studies, stories, and ideas covered here will lead you to do some rethinking of your own." Oh yes, Professor Adam Grant, as I turned each page of your book, "Think Again," I became more and more intrigued.
The author describes what went wrong with the two space missions, Challenger and Columbia. In the case of Challenger, it involved an O-ring, and in the case of Columbia, it was some foam that had fallen from the spaceship. Because neither of these incidents had caused a problem in the past, the  technical team at NASA decided not to delay the take-offs. As a result, seven astronauts lost their lives on both occasions.

 The professor also describes how vehemently Steve Jobs opposed the idea of the iPhone, but how, 6 months later, after some careful persuasion by a small group of engineers and designers, he gave the plan his blessing. Within four years, the iPhone generated fifty percent of Apple's earnings. The Blackberry was eclipsed because its inventor, Mike Lazaridis, refused to rethink.

He also relates a story about his cousin, Ryan, who, although he had an interest in economics, followed the family tradition and entered the field of medicine. Despite suffering a burnout, he persevered and finally became a neurosugeon. He admitted that if he had his life over again, he would have gone an entirely different route. Professor Grant comments that he often wonders what it would have taken to convince him to rethink his chosen line of work. 

A former student once contacted him for some romantic advice. He had been dating a woman for just over a year but despite the fact that this was the most fulfilling relationship he had ever had, he was concerned, because she did not fit the vision he had always had of his future wife. The professor asked him the following questions: "How old were you when you formed this vision? How much has changed since then?"

The former student admitted that he had formulated that vision when he was a teenager and confessed to never once having paused to rethink it. Two and a half years later, he contacted Professor Grant to tell him that he had let go of his preconceived idea, and that they had got engaged.

One of the most touching stories in this book is about Candice Walker. Strangers who visit the University of Michigan health-care system, might think that she is one of the doctors or nurses, as the patients speak so highly of her. They soon find out that she is neither a doctor nor a nurse, but a custodian, whose official job it is to keep the cancer centre clean. But she takes it upon herself, to take care of their fragile emotions, as well as their fragile immune systems. "No, it's not part of my job," she says, "but it's part of me."

"Check-ups aren't limited to careers - they're relevant to the plans we make in every domain of our lives. A successful relationship requires regular rethinking. The goal is to expand your repertoire of possible selves - which keeps you open to rethinking." 

"If you can master the art of rethinking, I believe you'll  be better positioned for success at work and happiness in life," says Professor Grant. "Rethinking is a skill set, but its also a mindset. We already have many of the mental tools we need. We just have to remember to get them out of the shed and remove the rust," he adds.

Here are a few of his suggestions :
- think like a scientist
- define yourself in terms of your values rather than your opinions
- don't confuse confidence with competence
- harness the benefits of doubt
- knowing what you don't know can evolve into an expertise
- when  you make a mistake, interpret it as a new discovery
- focus more on improving than proving yourself (cultivate a "confident humility")
- learn something new from each person you meet
- build a challenge network
- engage in debates
- ask more pertinent questions
- listen attentively and respond persuasively
- ask "How?" rather than "Why?"
- approach disagreements as dances instead of battles
- apply freedom of choice, acknowledge common ground and lead with a few strong points.

"Many of our opinions, like our stereotypes, are arbitrary. We've developed them without rigorous data or deep reflection. Most of us are accustomed to defining ourselves in terms of our beliefs, ideas and ideologies. This can result in tunnel vision which could prevent us from rethinking as the world changes and knowledge evolves. We need to develop the habit of forming our own second opinions."

A simple way in which to start rethinking our options, is to question what we do each day.


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