Adam Grant: The Power of Rethinking

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Think Again" by Adam Grant. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What does Adam Grant mean by “rethinking” or “thinking again”? Why is it so important to regularly rethink your beliefs, goals, and ideas?

According to Adam Grant, rethinking is the ability to question, investigate, and analyze your opinions and beliefs.  Grant says that rethinking is a crucial skill that you can apply to many aspects of your life. 

Here’s why rethinking is so important, why most people don’t do it, and how you can engage in it.

Adam Grant: Think Again

According to Adam Grant, rethinking or reconsideration has three major benefits:

Benefit #1: Improving Your Interactions With Others

There are three ways that your interactions improve when you stay open to questioning and analyzing your ideas:

  • You have more productive conversations and disagreements—Grant says that reconsideration helps you engage with others more open-mindedly. You become able to start conversations from a place of curiosity, leading to more productive collaborations with others.  
  • You avoid defensive behavior—when others challenge your beliefs, reconsideration helps you stay open to reconsidering them. Grant says that this openness prevents you from becoming anxious and defensive.
  • You prevent personal echo chambers—when you reconsider your opinions and beliefs, you start to consider different points of view. Grant says that reconsideration prevents you from living in a personal bubble in which your personal beliefs go unquestioned and helps you interact with those who have different beliefs.  

(Shortform note: Although Grant argues that questioning your beliefs makes for more positive interactions with others and exposes you to different perspectives, some social research argues that we’re actually hardwired to seek the company of people who think like us. This suggests that while reconsideration can certainly promote more open-minded conversations with others, it may not have the effect of improving your relationships if your conversations tend to focus on where your ideas differ.)

Benefit #2: Developing Self-Awareness and Humility

Grant writes that there are two ways in which reconsideration can help you develop a better sense of self-awareness and humility: 

  • You become aware of your biases and assumptions—Grant says that questioning what you know forces you to reflect on your biases and assumptions. 
  • You develop a sense of humility—reconsideration helps you realize that you are not always right. Grant says that this awareness develops your sense of humility about your abilities and knowledge. 

(Shortform note: Grant writes that having an accurate understanding of your own biases and blind spots is key to developing humility. This is an important skill for anyone to have, but it’s especially important for those in leadership positions. Humility is essential to effective leadership because it communicates that you can see beyond yourself and admit that you don’t have all the answers. This helps others relate to you and encourages them to step forward and contribute their knowledge.)

Benefit #3: Being More Open to New Ideas

Grant writes that reconsideration can help you become more open to new ideas in two primary ways: 

  • It allows you to embrace being wrong—practicing reconsideration helps you realize that being wrong isn’t negative. It’s an opportunity to learn something new. 
  • It instills in you a love of discovery and new knowledge—instead of feeling apprehensive and anxious when you run into something you don’t know, you’ll feel excited about what you’re about to discover.

(Shortform note: Studies show that, in addition to simply making you more comfortable with being wrong, being open to new ideas has neurological benefits that can make you more perceptive and mentally flexible. When you are open-minded, your brain gets better at integrating new information, leading to enhanced creativity.

Why Reconsideration Doesn’t Happen

Despite its benefits, you may find it challenging to practice reconsideration because beliefs and opinions aren’t just ideas—they’re a foundational way of identifying yourself and distinguishing yourself from others. Any challenge during an argument can threaten your core sense of identity.

(Shortform note: There is a neurochemical basis for the “threat” you feel when someone threatens your identity. When you identify with a belief, you often also identify with those who share your belief—for example, your support for a certain political candidate often translates into a sense of group belonging with other supporters. In Thank You For Arguing, Jay Heinrichs explains that this sense of group belonging gives you a burst of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for human bonding. When your identity is challenged, your oxytocin spikes in response to the “threat” to your group—prompting a defensive response of aggression and anger.)

Grant notes that feeling threatened in this way often triggers one of three defensive mindsets:

  • Self-righteous: You assert the supremacy of your principles. You believe you’ve already found the correct position, and don’t consider that your beliefs may not be accurate or applicable to every situation. 
  • Argumentative: You believe that the other person is wrong or doesn’t have all the facts. You put together arguments to prove yourself right, and you become combative instead of listening thoughtfully to the other person’s ideas. 
  • Persuasive: You want others to agree with you, adopt your beliefs, and take up your cause, so you use persuasion to get your way. Convincing others that your way is best—rather than determining if it really is the best—becomes your main priority. 
Adam Grant: The Power of Rethinking

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  • Why the ability to reconsider is more important than precise knowledge
  • How knowledge and expertise can narrow your thinking and limit your potential
  • How to improve your ability to reconsider things in work and in life

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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