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“We laugh at people who still use Windows 95, yet we still cling to opinions that we formed in 1995.” – (Adam Grant)
James A. Sanders ends his excellent contribution to The Canon Debate by citing Donald Akenson (Surpassing Wonder), “One of the great vanities of human beings is that they have ideas.
Little ideas maybe, but when it comes to big ideas, it is the ideas that have people.”
It might seem odd to open on the topic of rethinking (almost everything) by referencing an essay from a discussion on the biblical canon.
That usually brings to mind: closed, fixed, an authoritative list of books (as opposed to a list of authoritative books) that is, well, closed and fixed.
However, Akenson’s point is the perfect place to start our reflection and the fact that very often it is not we who “have” ideas but the other way around. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but when it comes to certain big ideas it can be.
Grant, an organizational psychologist, was a guest speaker at a recent conference and discussed a few takeaways from his book Think Again.
It is a book that would benefit nonprofits, for-profits who are doing well, and those who are for-profit but profit seems to be against them.
Given the current state of the world, now is perhaps the best time to question a lot of the assumptions we take for granted. In two words:
Grant thought the future of work/learning would be hybrid and approached various CEOs in January 2018 about a remote Friday experiment where they would let persons work one day a week from any location.
CEO said no. They were afraid people would procrastinate and their organizational culture would fall apart. In 2021, the same said CEOs have committed to working remotely indefinitely.
It’s amazing how it took a pandemic to accelerate digital transformation plans that were previously unthinkable (or being “looked at”) for years.
Grant’s fireside chat crystalized some of the better ideas he discussed in the book. He thinks the ability to rethink and unlearn will be one of the most important skillsets for the future. In the book, he writes, “Most of us take pride in our knowledge and expertise, and in staying true to our beliefs and opinions.
That makes sense in a stable world, where we get rewarded for having conviction in our ideas. The problem is that we live in a rapidly changing world, where we need to spend as much time rethinking as we do thinking.”
If you only learn one thing from Adam Grant let it be this. The need to guard against the mindset of three professions as it relates to thinking: preacher, prosecutor, and politician.
Grant explains, “We go into preacher mode when our sacred beliefs are in jeopardy. … We enter prosecutor mode when we recognize flaws in other people’s reasoning. … We shift into politician mode when we’re seeking to win over an audience.”
Grant notes (admits?) that scientists are not immune from the aforementioned mindsets.
(This is most evident when it comes to climate change.) “Scientists morph into preachers when they present their pet theories as gospel and treat thoughtful critiques as sacrilege.
They veer into political terrain when they allow their views to be swayed by popularity rather than accuracy. They enter prosecutor mode when they’re hell-bent on debunking and discrediting rather than discovering.”
Grant argues that rethinking needs to become a regular habit, unfortunately, however, “traditional methods of education don’t always allow students to form that habit. Achieving excellence in school often requires mastering old ways of thinking.”
In the section “The smarter they are, the harder they fail” he says, “Mental horsepower doesn’t guarantee mental dexterity. No matter how much brainpower you have, if you lack the motivation to change your mind, you’ll miss many occasions to think again.”
Rethinking is not just an individual skill to be honed but there is also a collective aspect to it that needs to be developed by organisations, and other groups: “Changing the culture of an entire organisation is daunting while changing the culture of a team is more feasible.
It starts with modeling the values we want to promote, identifying and praising others who exemplify them, and building a coalition of colleagues who are committed to making the change.”
He ends, “It takes confident humility to admit that we’re a work in progress. It shows that we care more about improving ourselves than proving ourselves.” If you didn’t plan to read Think Again this year, I’d rethink that if I were you.