If you’ve read an Adam Grant book, this book would read familiar. He has an uncanny ability to pair psychology ideas with unique stories and weave it together in casual prose. The theme that ties this book together is rethinking. The idea that we can get to better outcomes by constantly reexamining our priors and beliefs and evolving them.
The book opens with a tragedy involving smokejumpers, who are highly trained firefighters who specialize in putting out wildfires, tasked with the Mann Gulch fire in Montana in 1949. As the fire got out of control, the majority of the crew perished while attempting to outrun the advancing flames. Of the three who survived, the foremen Wagner Dodge did so by clearing the grass around him by setting them on fire. As there were no longer shrubs to burn close to the ground, Dodge was able to survive by lying flat as the fire swept through.
Even as Dodge attempted to rally his team to the idea in the moment, they ignored him. It was so erratic and very much contrary to their training. Tragically, when their bodies were discovered later, the smokejumpers were found to still be clutching onto all their heavy bags and equipment. With all the training and drilling the men did, the tools became an extension of them, so much so that even when running for their lives, it would not occur to abandon them. Even without Dodge’s improvisation, Grant wondered if they would have survived if they simply were able to let go of the load they were carrying.
Think Again is organized into 11 chapters with a central story underpinning each. The first third of the book examines how beliefs get built and engrained within us. The mental model of communication styles as preachers, politicians and prosecutors provides a useful way of thinking about how we consistently engage with ideas. The author proposes to instead adopt a scientific mindset–that is, putting ideas up as hypothesis and update them as data comes in. It is also interesting how this idea dovetails with the central theme in Thinking in Bets.
The second third of the book focuses on influencing other people’s ideas and covers it from the perspective of persuasion, reframing and nudging. Of which, the latter about motivational interviewing piqued my interest. The author describes it as conversational technique where listening to people’s needs and nudging them to reevaluate their information leads to better outcomes. The last third of the book discusses how to build environments that encourage rethinking and better decision making processes.
Like many of such books, it is easy to nod along. The stories are compelling and the ideas are sound. After all, who wouldn’t want to reevaluate their ideas when new evidence comes in? The book is rightfully focused on the self, however, this is also often our blindspot. There are many beliefs that are so ingrained in our identity that we don’t even think about questioning them. Even for scientists. Or as the German scientist Max Planck said:
A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.
Perhaps I’m a little too pessimistic about human nature.
Lastly, if nothing else I wish to take with me the mental model of the preacher, politician, prosecutor and scientist and add it to my toolbox. I really like the idea of framing an idea or conversation in one of these boxes and thinking through my goals and motives.
I would highly recommend the audiobook version narrated by the author.