Grant, Adam. (2021). Think Again. New York: Penguin
I am huge a fan of Adam Grant, his publications, and his thinking. His past books, Give and Take and Originals are two of my favorites. Think Again is a great addition and major influence in the ability to be creative in our VUCA world. I follow Grant on Twitter for great resources and quotes that illuminate my thoughts.
This book starts with a story of Mann Gulch, a wildfire in 1949, and how the leader, Wagner Dodge, managed to save three people from a raging fire. Unfortunately, twelve fire fighters perished. The lessons learned are applicable to current issues facing educators and society.
One lesson was First Instinct Fallacy. Yes, when a shooting occurs, duck and get cover. When dealing with a tornado or wildfire, the chance of outrunning or hiding to avoid these disasters is a low percentage strategy. Twelve fire fighters started running. Dodge started burning the surrounding area where he and a couple of colleagues were located. His quick thinking caused the fire to go around them. By burning the area there was nothing to burn, hence no fuel to keep the first fire going.
The ones who died did not even drop their tools. In a crisis it is hard to overcome immediate instincts rather than considering other possibilities. Our focus narrows and most times see only one way to avoid disaster.
We tend to think about reflection as looking back on something that happened. Donald Schön (1983) and subsequent articles identified three types of reflection. Reflection-ON-Action, what we normally think of after the fact. Reflection-FOR-Action which is basically a planning method for what is going to be presented. AND, Reflection-IN-Action which is seldom talked about and where most of us spend our waking hours. Think of teacher, leaders, and most professions.
The book Sources of Power, Gary Klein (1998) studied ‘Reflection-IN-Action.’ He observed EMTs, operating room teams, and fire fighters. These are critical positions requiring intense situations. So, how do you prepare for these jobs? He suggested two ways that help.
1. Mental simulation – I did not say stimulation. Discussing how the team operates for the best results is extremely helpful. I suggest reading Atul Gawande’s book Better.
2. Pattern Recognition – once you know what patterns are normal it is easier to identify events that don’t fit the pattern. Therefore, deviation can be a clue that something is wrong.
This leads to another lesson being identified. Cognitive Laziness, which says once we hear a story, we assume the story is true. When we hear a story repeated over and over, we get more convinced it is true. We fail to check out information, admit mistakes, and take corrective action. We tend to go along to get along. Of course, if nothing changes, creative and talented people are motivated to leave the organization.
“Our ways of thinking become habits that can weigh us down, and we don’t bother to question them until it’s too late.” Habits, on one hand, can be good if they are growth-producing or healthy. Habits can lead to negative consequences if the results are less than helpful. Some authors have suggested looking for the second right answer. In my coaching I try to help create three options. If whatever path is tried and it does not work, there are two more options that have been discussed.
Grant writes about two biases that keep us stuck:
1. Confirmation bias – we look for things that support our previously held beliefs
2. Desirability bias – we tend to see what we want to see
These two biases can cause us to generalize on very little data, delete information, and distort what we see to fit what we expect. I have said for many years, “If it is not working, try something else.” Sometimes I modify it to say, ‘try anything else.’
This passage from the book was particularly significant to me. “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 seek to Win over an audience, and we campaign and lobby for the approval of our constituents.”
I have found that having critical friends around me to listen to ideas and provide their thoughts helps in planning what to do next. Marshall Goldsmith (2007) calls this FeedForward. Since we can’t change the past, we can influence the future. So, what actions will be worthwhile moving forward? What will be the evidence that you will be making progress?
Grant offers a few pointers on how to rethink issues and solutions:
• Doubt – those who are doubters may have real concerns that should be addressed
• Curiosity – be curious rather than judgmental. I have coached people to ask a question first before making a statement as fact. This keeps conversations going.
• Discovery – by asking how someone arrived at a conclusion gives us an explanation of the thinking process. This provides a better way to understand other points of view
• Humility – we can’t overstate humility. Being able to say ‘I am not as good as I want to be’ or ‘the results are not as good as I would like’ can open up more possibilities. If we get busy defending our position, people tend to acquiesce and walk away
Here is a list of defensive statements on page 30 that most of us have heard many times. We have to find other pathways to resolve some of these.
• That will never work here
• That’s not what my experience has shown
• That’s too complicated; let’s not overthink it
• That’s the way we’ve always done it
“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”
Research from Dunning and Kruger (1999) found that many people overestimate their abilities or acumen. To cover up a lack of competence some will use an offensive strategy of overconfidence. This can lead to negative consequences.
Here are some of the findings:
• On average, they believed they did better than 62 percent of their peers, but in reality outperformed only 12 percent of them. The less intelligent we are in a particular domain, the more we seem to overestimate our actual intelligence in that domain.
• Managers Tend to Overrate Their Abilities (Measured versus Self-Evaluated Management Practices Score) Graph p. 39
When we look at leaders and leadership, this quote by Grant makes a great deal of sense “Strong leaders engage their critics and make themselves stronger. Weak leaders silence their critics and make themselves weaker.”
Again, Grant offers a few suggestions: How to Acquire Wisdom?
2. Make MISTAKES.
3. Learn from Mistakes
4. Repeat Steps 1-3 until wisdom is acquired
5. Realizing that wisdom in Step 4 was really not wisdom at all.
6. Repeat Steps 1-5 for the rest of your life.
Another quote that struck me in the book was from actor Will Smith: After all, it doesn’t matter “whose fault it is that something is broken if it’s your responsibility to fix it. Taking responsibility is taking your power back.”
As an educator, I loved this quote: “I believe that good teachers introduce new thoughts, but great teachers introduce new ways of thinking.” It is past time to rethink our educational structures as we compete in a global economy. Tony Wagner, Andy Hargreaves, Art Costa, among others, in education have been offering new ideas to be implemented in education for years. Business leaders such as Richard Sheridan (Menlo Innovations), Marshall Goldsmith (Stakeholder Centered Coaching), Ed Catmull (Pixar), Peter Block, Edgar Schein, among others have offered suggestions about workplaces that could be the best places for humans and creativity.
Richard Sheridan (2013), in his book Joy, Inc. offers several ideas. Here are three:
1. Run the Experiment – try things and see if they work
2. Make Mistakes Fastr – NOT a typo.
3. Hire for Kindergarten skills – Do they play well with other
Grant said, “Bold, persistent experimentation might be our best tool for rethinking.” I believe Adam Grant is correct. Read this book. It is well worth the investment of your time and thinking.
Dunning, David & Kruger, Justin. (1999). Dunning-Kruger Effect. Cornell University.
Gawande, Atul. (2007). Better: A surgeon’s notes on performance. New York: Picador.
Goldsmith, Marshall. (2007). What got you here won’t get you there. New York: Hyperion
Klein, Gary. (1998). Sources of power: how people make decisions. Cambridge, MA:
The MIT Press.
Schon, Donald. (1983). The reflective practitioner. New York: Basic Books, Inc.
Sheridan, Richard. (2013). Joy, Inc. New York: Penguin