Black and white, red and blue, and scores of other binary choices; our world has drawn into camps. The sudden slowdown caused by the pandemic may be the best time in our lives to re-examine those opinions to which we cling with the greatest fervor, especially those we hold just because “it’s always been that way.”
Adam Grant is a professor at Wharton and a frequent TED talk presenter. In Think Again, Grant details the results of research that were surprising even to him. He has discovered that people who are willing to listen to opposing opinions and be flexible in their thinking are often the most successful. The book is divided into three sections: individual rethinking, business flexibility, and building organizations of lifelong learning. The very best academics are eager to listen to opposing opinions and are willing to admit that they were wrong. They are thrilled to find new insights. The most successful managers will readily unlearn and re-learn processes and strategies in order to keep their teams producing at the top level. Any group of people who remain curious and open-minded will grow and flourish, rather than becoming stale and rigid.
When I first heard of this new book, I was intrigued, since I am beginning what will be a few years of transition in my life. The book turned out to be somewhat more business-focused than I had anticipated, but it is an enjoyable read with many universal applications. Grant is a young father of three, and his illustrations include relatable stories of family life.
The ability to change his mind is why you know who Steve Jobs was, but you probably don’t know who Mike Lazaridis is, even though he was a smashing success before Apple made it big. Lazaridis and his colleague, Douglas Fredin, invented the Blackberry, the very first hand-held data device. When the iPhone came along, Lazaridis thought it was ridiculous to think that people would want to tap on glass instead of using a real keyboard, as on the Blackberry. Besides, no one would want to use a hand-held device for personal things; it was only meant for business emails– and that was the end of the Blackberry. On the other hand, Steve Jobs was happy with the success of the iPod for music and the iPhone for talk and text. However, when his team was enthusiastic about putting music on the iPhone, he agreed, even though it would mean the slow death of the iPod. The company he was building continued to expand as they stayed open to even more creative ideas, evolving and thriving.
Grant gives many other stories of success through flexibility. He devotes a section to persuading others to think as you do, and the key ingredient is listening more than we talk. That’s a tough one for those of us who love to talk! One of his discoveries concerning lifelong learning is that we do not necessarily learn best the way we enjoy the most. Study participants who were most comfortable and content listening to lectures did not always retain the information as well as they did when asked to perform experiments or conduct research and compile reports. In other words, venture outside of your comfort zone to learn new skills or fields of research.
It is encouraging to see books like Think Again being published at this critical time. Our culture has become reactionary to the point of violence, as we have seen over the past year, and it is time to take a step back, cool down, and listen. Our sources of information seem to lack any attempt at neutrality, so even our input is already tainted. It is so important to read beyond the headlines and to have real conversations with people with opposing viewpoints in order to understand one another’s thinking and to work toward peace and cooperation. On an individual level, we need to live a larger life, keep learning new things, and remain open to creativity and discovery. We can do so much better than this.
Disclaimer: I listened to a library audiobook of this title, read by the author. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.