Friday, August 19, 2022

Review of Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know by Adam Grant

This review was written by Eugene Kernes  

Book can be found in: 
Book Club Event = Book List (10/01/2022)
Intriguing Connections = 1) How to Teach? How to Learn?

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“Part of the problem is cognitive laziness.  Some psychologist point out that we’re mental misers: we often prefer the ease of hanging on to old views over the difficulty of grappling with new ones.  Yet there are also deeper forces behind our resistance to rethinking.  Questioning ourselves makes the world more unpredictable.” – Adam Grant, Prologue, Page 11

“When a core belief is questioned, though, we tend to shut down rather than open up.  It’s as if there’s a miniature dictator living inside our heads, controlling the flow of facts to our minds.” – Adam Grant, Chapter 3” The Joy of Being Wrong, Page 54

“If two people always have the same opinion, at least one of them isn’t thinking critically – or speaking candidly.  Intellectual friction isn’t a relationship bug.  It’s a feature of learning.” – Adam Grant, Chapter 4: The Good Fight Club, Page 78

The abilities to think, learn, and apply concepts to complex problems are usually referenced as intelligence.  What is missing are the abilities to rethink, and unlearn.  Individuals have hesitation not just to rethink solutions, but the very idea of rethinking.  Much less energy intensive to keep with prior ideas and decisions, than thinking about new ideas.  The world becomes unpredictable if prior ideas are questioned.  Discomfort of doubt is avoided by sticking with convictions.  

Thinking again about ideas and decisions requires acknowledging that facts have changed.  That what was appropriate before, has become inappropriate.  Thinking again means losing knowledge that is no longer working, to unlearn inappropriate knowledge.  Learning how other people misused knowledge, does not have the same difficulty as learning to unlearn knowledge oneself.  Tools for rethinking can be developed, such as by practicing questioning information.  Thinking again generates different solutions, which can facilitate a better situation.  

Assumptions, opinions, and prior ideas that are used regularly create individual’s identity.  The identity feels threated when reconsidering.  Losing priorly used ideas and decision is like losing a part of individual identity.  Sticking to prior ideas and decision can make a person consistent, but at the expense of flexibility.  Reconsidering favors flexibility over consistency.  

Questioning the judgment of other people is easy.  Spotting the flaws in other’s thoughts, and what they need to think again about.  Even advice from experts, individuals frequently seek alternative advice.  What is difficult is to doubt ideas that comes from oneself, and seek alternative ideas to those generated.  

The author dichotomizes approaches to dealing with information info four mindsets.  The mindsets are preacher, prosecutor, politician, and scientist.  The mindsets are abstract references, rather than strictly within the described profession.  Those within the profession used as a mindset, do utilize other mindsets, while also may not actually adhere to their own mindset.  

Within the preacher mindset, individuals choose to protect their identity, while promoting their ideals.  Within the prosecutor mindset, individuals find flaws in oppositions reasoning, and then try to prove them wrong.  Within the politician mindset, individuals seek to gain an audience, by lobbying for approval.  Within the scientist mindset, individuals find limits to knowledge, seek alternative perspectives, and update their views to new data.  Rethinking is the trade of the scientists, whose mindset is promoted within this book.  

Thinking could become stuck when preaching ideals, prosecuting errors, and politicking for support.  Usually not considering the need to rethink individual’s own views.  The mindsets come from professions but at times do not possess the mindset, such as scientists not using the tools they were trained with.  Depending on the context, scientists can become preachers, prosecutors, and politicians. 

Scientist mindset is about raising questions.  Favoring discovery of results and ideas over accepting preconceived results.  Searching for reasons for why ideas are right and wrong.  Updating and revising ideas.  Purpose of learning is not to be proven right, but to improve ideas.  Setting up test and experiments to check knowledge and to learn, rather than for social desirability. 

Intelligence, and its Limitations: 
Intelligence does not necessarily facilitate rethinking.  More intelligence, as in faster at recognizing patterns, can make it harder to update beliefs.  Numeracy skills enable more accurate interpretation of results, when the empirical patterns validate beliefs.  The problem is that when empirical results clash with ideology, numeracy skills turn from asset into a liability for they tend to bend reality to fit their views.  Those with better numeracy skills fail at analyzing results that contradict views. 

Everyone has biases, but some think they are more objective.  More intelligence makes it harder to see limitations, harder to rethink positions.  Biases not only prevent appropriate use of intelligence, but they also contort intelligence into a weapon against the truth.  A few biases are confirmation bias and desirability bias.  Confirmation bias is when the individual accepts only the evidence that confirms preconceived ideas and rejects alternatives.  Desirability bias is when the individual sees the only wanted results.  Individuals usually are not aware of the flaws in their own thinking.  

Although normally individuals are blind to their own biases, individuals can learn to spot the biases.  Learn the tools to recognize biases, which enables rethinking.  What is needs is the right kind of confidence, for overconfidence is dangerous.  What is needed is humility in knowledge.  Humility leads to having enough doubt to enable rethinking.  Leading to curiosity on how to improve the knowledge base.  

Armchair quarterbacks assume to have more knowledge than they actually do.  Having lack of skills does not mean that the individual knows that they lack the skills.  The Dunning-Kruger effect is when lack of competence is compensated by overconfidence.  The reverse is the imposter syndrome, which is when the individual has more skills than confidence.  Imposter syndrome can help motivate learning. 

When core beliefs are challenged, a totalitarian ego begins to control the flow of information, and preventing threatening information from being considered.  Easy to fool oneself, even if the individual does not want to fool oneself.  Conclusions can be formed from small amount of evidence, while a small amount of evidence is not enough to revise the conclusions. 

Information that does not change one’s mind, makes one’s mind more difficult to change.  Considered a mental vaccine to forthcoming information.  A mental vaccine prevents forthcoming influencing attempts.  Also makes already held beliefs appear more certain, while less willing to consider alternatives.  

A binary bias occurs when simplifying information into two categories.  An antidote to binary bias is complexifying.  Acknowledging complexity increases engagement and inspires curiosity.  Considering a range of perspectives on a topic.  Forcing to choose a side causes simplification of the complex problems.  Complex problems contain a lot of uncertainty, and by acknowledging that uncertainty the individual becomes more persuasive, rather than undermine trust.  More attention is given to knowledgeable people who admit uncertainty.  People can deny problems when the solutions are unappealing.

Benefits of Thinking Again, and How to Encourage the Practice:
There is a lifetime of evidence that each individual is wrong on a regular basis.  Believes are chosen, and the individual can choose to rethink them.  There is no benefit in keeping wrong ideas even longer.

There are those who are happy being wrong, and accept what they knew was wrong.  Their goal is not to be wrong, but to recognize when ideas are wrong, as that means they have become less wrong.  Denying an idea or decision as wrong, exacerbates how wrong they are.  There is hesitation about admitting wrongness as the individual can become seen as incompetent, but there is research that indicates the reverse.  That admitting when the individual is wrong, makes them appear more competent.  Admitting errors is a display of honesty, and a willingness to learn. 

Various attachments to prior opinions prevents rethinking.  A resolution would be to detach.  Detach by separating present-self from past-self, for they make decisions with different sets of information.  Detach opinions from identity, for identity is a more complex agglomeration than any opinion.  Opinions need to become tentative, to readily change them when needed.  

Diversity of thought makes task conflict constructive.  Diversity of perspective prevents overconfidence cycles.  People coming from different backgrounds can identify alternative information.  Hearing alternative views keeps individuals humble, without damaging relationships.  Intellectual chemistry is when people disagree but still enjoy the conversation.  Intellectual friction is a feature of learning. 

Individuals who tend to disagree can be critical and challenging.  Being disagreeable comes with negative associations such as complaining about everything.  Need to know when to belong to groups of agreeable or disagreeable people.  Agreeable people make for a great support network.  A challenge network consistent of a group of people who are willing to point out other people’s weaknesses, which facilitates rethinking.  It is hard to disagree, which is why disagreements needs a fostering environment to be constructive.  

Rethinking is a collective capability, rather than an individual skill.  Depends on organizational culture.  With a culture that allows errors, more errors are reported but fewer are made.  Errors are learned from.  Alternatively, cultures that punish errors claim less errors to not be penalized.  Without acknowledging the errors, the same mistakes were repeated for they could not readily diagnose root causes of problems.  A culture needs to instill positive and negative reinforcements.  Positive reinforcements facilitate repetition of appropriate behavior, but only positive reinforcements precipitates in overconfidence.  Negative reinforcements facilitate learning from errors.  

How To Talk To Others?
Being adversarial in trying to convince others is counterproductive, for it makes people become defensive.  Being defensive means that they are unwilling to rethink their ideas, and are not willing to collaborate.  Hostility prevents constructive conversations.  Need to respond with curiosity and interest, to prevent losing control.  Tranquility is a strength, and can calm emotions.

Rather than resisting oppositions claims, need to adapt to their claims to provide opportunities to open up.  As the individual might want to change other people’s minds, the individual needs to be open to changing their own mind as well.  Demonstrating openness by acknowledging critics claims and what has been learned.  Consider opponents strongest argument, rather than weakest.  Fragile egos seek to affirm positive attribute, and deny weaknesses.  

Oneself is the most capable of persuading oneself.  Picking the valid reasons, and taking ownership of them.   Difficult to motivate change, but each individual can find their own motivation to change.  Influencing decisions is not just about disagreeing, but allowing the other to feel in control of their decisions.  Rather than lead or follow in a conversation, need to guide a conversation.  Explaining an understanding of what others claimed, provides feedback.  Listening is part of a conversation which not only provides information that can be used to ask questions, but also allows others to reconsider their views about the individual. 

Overwhelming someone with rational argument makes then resistant.  Logic is internally consistent, but not externally valid.  Emotions need to be considered, as they are not a distraction during a conversation.  Emotions express caring for a topic.  The individual might still reject the idea coming from passionate person, but they can understand the passion of the person.

Opposing groups tend to be homogenized with negative characteristics, even if both groups view each other with the same characteristics.  The thoughts about the opposition influence behavior even when out of context.  Sport team fans views about the other team fans, influences how they think about other team fans, even when not in a sports context.  Deepening group identity can exacerbate divergent understandings, as people disidentify with the opposition.  Preferring to interact with those who share their own views, which also makes those view more extreme.  Conformity reinforces polarization.  When confronted with people who do not fit a stereotype, people usually see those differences as unique within the group, rather than reconsider the group as a whole.  Stereotypes are socially constructed on shaky foundations that are rarely questioned.  While those in power rarely have their perspectives questioned, groups that are marginalized and oppressed contort to fit in. 

There are different reasons why people disagree, rather than just a single reason.  Different people disagree with a topic in different ways.  Skeptics think critically about information and are willing to update thinking.  Deniers are dismissive and do not believe any information coming from alternative sources.  Twist information to fit their views.   

Rethinking itself might not necessarily be optimal.  Rethinking takes a lot of energy.  To rethink about certain ideas, they need to use prior ideas.  Culture itself is passed down knowledge that has worked.  Rather than spending energy rethinking every idea, culture provides foundations which reduce the energy strain on thinking about different ideas.  As the book advices, what matters is when the individual needs to rethink prior thoughts, ideas, and decisions.  Primarily, when the prior ideas no longer apply to the situation.  Less need to rethink ideas, that are still applicable to the situation, even if alternatives can be better.  

As the different mindsets represent abstract ways of thinking, attaching them to certain professions reduces their value.  As the author notes, professions themselves not only do not always apply their own mindset, but use alternative mindsets given the context.  To adhere to the broad understanding of each mindset, would require renaming them for better representation.  

A major cause of problems with thinking is overconfidence.  Overconfidence prevents rethinking.  The problem is that it is not clear what overconfidence is.  Within the book, overconfidence is used relative to skills, and with negative consequences.  Overconfidence can still lead to success, but would not be considered overconfidence.  Overconfidence as in having more confidence than skills, is a problematic view because skills are varied and their impact is often shrouded in uncertainty.  Even with a recognized individual who has the most expertise within a field, would still be considered overconfidence should the individual be wrong.

A minor issue in this book is the author’s view that people should withhold opinion that do not adhere to logic.  This is an inconsistent view because withholding ideas means they cannot get feedback, and might even become exacerbated because there is no one to correct them.  It is also possible that what might seem illogical to certain individuals, might be the most logical claim of others.  Discovery of logic, and to test opinions means that they need to interact with others.  To make the claim of opinions consistent with the rest of the book would not be difficult, for whatever opinions someone has, all they need is to be willing to reconsider them.  

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•Why do people need to think again?
•How can being wrong also be fun?
•What is intelligence?
•What are rethinking and unlearning skills?
•Why do people have trouble rethinking? 
•Why keep with prior ideas and decisions?
•Why cannot prior knowledge be applied for future decisions?
•What are the four different mindsets, and what do they represent?
•What is the use of questions?
•When does intelligence backfire? 
•What are some intellectual biases?
•What can be done to correct biases?
•What happens when there is more confidence than skills, and vice versa?
•What is the totalitarian ego?
•What are mental vaccines?
•How to use uncertainty?
•Why recognize errors?  What prevents errors from being recognized? 
•How to improve rethinking? 
•What is Project Debater?
•What impact does diversity of thought have on conversations? 
•How to convince others of the merit of ideas they oppose? 
•What makes conversations difficult?  How make conversations constructive? 
•What are motivational interviews?
•What is a learning culture? 
•What is the paradox of scientist and superforecasters thinking about being wrong?
•How do schools engage students? 

Book Details
Publisher:         Viking [Penguin Random House]
Edition ISBN:  9781984878113
Pages to read:   206
Publication:     2021
1st Edition:      2021
Format:            eBook

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall           5