Friday Book in a Page: Think Again

Think Again by Adam Grant

In many of my marketing, entrepreneurship and especially ecommerce lectures I, again and again, come back to the story of Warby Parker. Basically it plays well with students. Here’s a story of four university friends who come up with an idea to sell glasses online instead of getting summer internships, and seven years later they were recognized as the world's most innovative company and valued at over a billion dollars.

In updating my lecture five or six years ago, I was first introduced to Adam Grant. In his 2016 TED talk, The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers, he opens his talk with how and why he passed on his students’ invitation to be an early investor in their online glasses company, Warby Parker. 

Adam Grant’s book Think Again is one of my favourites. And if you’ve been reading here for a while, you’ll probably know that one of the reasons is because it explores paradoxes - as captured in the subhead of the title The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know. 

Key Messages of the Book:

  1. Adaptability is key in a world of constant shifts. In the business, and especially marketing, world, we all love to hold up Blackberry (and poor Blockbuster) as the cautionary tale of not being customer-centric in your thinking. This time Grant uses Blackberry as the cautionary tale of business leaders holding on too tightly to their convictions and planned direction for a company. The tool that Grant gives for business leaders here is to think more like a scientist. Scientists start with questions and not the answer. Scientists carefully evaluate their hypotheses and base their findings on empirical data, not gut feelings. And, maybe most importantly, rejoice when they are wrong because that is where the new learning comes from. 
  2. Ignorance is bliss until it isn't. Research has demonstrated that individuals who perform poorly on assessments of logic and humour, for example, often have a distorted perception of their aptitude in these areas. The problem is compounded when one holds an inaccurate belief about their abilities, as it reduces their motivation to develop these skills. What is the remedy for our inability to recognize our own shortcomings? Humility. Confidence doesn’t come from having all the answers. Confidence comes with being really okay with being wrong. 
  3. Stop the tug-o-war need to be right. Great results come from negotiations that follow three simple steps, in order. First, find a common ground. Start with something you can both agree on. Second, one or two strong arguments for your case or point of view are infinitely more powerful than a laundry list of reasons why. And lastly, don’t negotiate like a prosecutor. Instead, be a scientist. Get curious and wonder why. “I’m curious about . . . . “ might be the greatest sentence opener with someone who shares a different point of view than you. 
  4. People are built for change. Grant lays out the strategy for embracing this inherent hardwiring for change. It involves first exploring how arbitrary some of our beliefs are. The example he uses is a powerful one - are the white supremacy beliefs held by KKK klansmen simply an accident of birth? Black musician Daryl Davis has been on a mission to convince some of the most racist people in America to change their minds simply by questioning if their beliefs would still be the same if they were raised in a household that didn’t support beliefs of white supremacy. The results? Davis is now the godfather of an ex-klansman. Again, by getting curious like a scientist about the root of many beliefs, humans can access their inherent ability for change. Many of our beliefs, it turns out, are solely a result of random chance.
  5. The power of AND vs. OR. When issues are presented as black and white, we feel like we cannot consider a thought that is on the other “side” of a belief that we hold true. This is the beauty of paradoxes. People can hold one belief, AND they can hold another belief that might at first seem contradictory. When we can get away from black or white conversations with people and get curious about how and why we can believe in something AND hold a seemingly contradictory belief, real learning happens. 
  6. Rethinking needs to feel safe. Implementing any of the above key messages involves being comfortable and remaining confident about being wrong. This can only happen when it feels safe to be wrong. Corporate cultures (and family cultures) can create this safety by adopting a culture of curiosity that prioritizes learning above performance. 

Lasting Messages: We learn more from people who challenge our thought process than those who affirm our conclusions. If knowledge is power, knowing what we don’t know is wisdom.

Back to blog