Book Summary: Think Again

When most people think of mental wellness, they immediately think of intellect. The more complicated tasks you can solve, the higher your IQ.

However, in an ever-changing environment, a set of cognitive abilities is more important: the capacity to unlearn what you already know and "rethink."

Grant begins this novel by narrating the gripping story of Wagner Dodge, a wildland firefighter. He did something unusual as an out-of-control fire shifted course and threatened to engulf his team.

He stripped down to his underwear, lighted a match, and set fire to an area of grass surrounding him. He then soaked his handkerchief, placed it over his mouth, and lay down for 15 minutes as the fire blazed all around him.

No one had taught him how to do it, and the rest of his squad found it so strange that they kept on running, hoping to reach safety before it was too late. Two of them survived the fire, while the other twelve did not.

Dodge had rescued himself by devising a strategy that no one had ever been taught in the history of firefighting. He torched a grassy area surrounding him so the fire wouldn't have any fuel to burn as it went by.

He had shown mental flexibility, which is the subject of this book.

Stay with us for the next 12 minutes as we discover how to let go of outdated ideas and beliefs that no longer serve us and embrace our individuality rather than conformity.

Part I: Individual Rethinking

A Preacher, a Prosecutor, a Politician, and a Scientist Walk Into Your Mind

A male individual asking a female counterpart questions while thinking at the same time.

One of Grant's coworkers, Phil Tetlock, revealed that when we talk and think, we frequently adopt the mentality of 3 distinct personalities: preachers, prosecutors, and politicians.

  • When we believe our fundamental beliefs are being questioned, we go into preacher mode to defend and promote our values.
  • We go into prosecutor mode when we see errors in other people's logic and want to show them incorrect.
  • When we're trying to persuade a group of people to accept our views, we act like politicians, campaigning and pushing for their favor.

The danger is that we become so engrossed in whichever mode we choose that we can never ever reconsider our positions.

Grant says that thinking like a scientist is the solution. Being a scientist entails keeping an open mind about reality and much more. It necessitates a quest for reasons why we could be mistaken and a revision of our beliefs depending on what we discover.

When you become locked in one of the P modes rather than thinking like a scientist, this is what happens:

  • In preacher style, changing our beliefs is a sign of moral weakness rather than intellectual honesty.
  • Allowing oneself to be convinced is a step away from the truth rather than moving forward in prosecutor mode.
  • Instead of responding to clearer reasoning or better facts, politicians flip-flop in reaction to rewards and sticks.

The Armchair Quarterback and the Impostor: Finding the Sweet Spot of Confidence

A male manager giving his presentation with confidence.

Confidence is a gauge of how much you trust yourself. Most individuals struggle to match their degree of confidence to their ability level.

On the one hand, our confidence outweighs our ability. The armchair quarterback condition is well termed.

It turns out that the less brilliant we are in a certain topic, the more likely we are to exaggerate our abilities.

Fans who do not have substantial experience in a sport are considerably more prone than those who shout at the coaches on television.

On the other hand, the impostor syndrome occurs when our expertise surpasses our confidence. Feeling like an impostor rather than an armchair quarterback isn't ideal. But there are some significant benefits to feeling like an impostor. Feeling like an impostor:

  • encourages us to put in more effort.
  • encourages us to work more efficiently. We have nothing to lose by evaluating and adjusting our plan if we believe we will not succeed.

We are also more likely to seek out assistance from others because we are better learners.

So, if you're seeking to improve your mental flexibility, it's best to underestimate your own abilities.

However, the sweet spot of confidence lies somewhere between armchair quarterback and fraud. People who fall under this category are far more likely to distinguish between their objectives and techniques.

They may be confident in their potential to attain a future goal. Yet they're humble enough to examine if they have the proper abilities and methods in place right now.

The Joy of Being Wrong: The Thrill of Not Believing Everything You Think

When thinking like a scientist, one of the things you have to get used to is being incorrect. Sadly, most of us dislike being proven wrong, especially when it involves something important.

When something important to us is called into question, we summon our inner tyrant. The totalitarian ego is the psychological word for it, and its function is to keep frightening information out.

The most successful people have found out how to remove themselves from their ego's attraction in two key ways. They can separate their former selves from their present selves and their views from their identities.

Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater Associates (a world-famous business success), says this:

"If you don't look back at yourself and think, 'Wow, how stupid I was a year ago,' then you must not have learned much in the last year."

People who are more successful than you change their beliefs and ideas more frequently than those who aren't. They can question ideas before accepting them and continue being critical of them even after they've been accepted.

The fear of being wrong in the long term is the attraction of short-term incorrectness. They know that if they want to be right in the long run, they must "think again" and iterate their way to the truth and success.

Grant agrees that this route is not always sunshine and rainbows since acknowledging our mistakes is unpleasant.

When we consider that they are necessary for progress, we can endure the short-term suffering in favor of long-term gain.

The Good Fight Club: The Psychology of Constructive Conflict

A female worker getting angry due to a conflict shown through the smoke coming out of her ear and her angry expression

In a workplace, there are two forms of conflict.

  • The first is friction in relationships, which obstructs rethinking. Because we spend all of our time covering for ourselves and our identities when a fight gets emotional and personal, it prevents us from reconsidering.
  • The second type of conflict is task conflict, which focuses on the techniques and strategies employed to achieve goals and objectives. This type of confrontation helps us express our disagreements without taking them personally.

According to studies, teams that perform badly have more relational conflict than task conflict. They become so caught up in hating each other that they don't dare challenge one another.

In contrast, high-performing groups have little relationship conflict and maintain it throughout their time together. This helps them to push each other and then come together on a plan to get things done.

So, how do you build a team that is at ease discussing the techniques and methods that will be used to achieve their ultimate goal?

You might try framing a disagreement as a debate rather than a disagreement. This shows that you are open to hearing different points of view and prepared to change your perspective.

So, the next time you want to have a constructive task conflict, start by asking yourself:

"Can we have a discussion?"

Part II: Interpersonal Rethinking—Opening Other People's Minds

Dances with Foes: How to Win Debates and Influence People

A social influence getting likes for his social media as he is seen to influence people.

How can we persuade others to change their ideas and reconsider their positions?

Neil Rackham has spent his whole career examining the differences between excellent and ordinary negotiators. There have been five differences that he discovered.

To begin, the experts spent about a third of their preparation time identifying areas of agreement with the other side.

This took practically no time for average negotiators.

Second, specialists tend to give fewer reasons to support their case compared to normal negotiators.

The more reasons in their advantage, average negotiators assume, the more compelling they will be. The experts recognize that this merely helps to dilute their most compelling arguments.

Third, professionals avoid what Rackham refers to as "defend-attack spirals," in which they dismiss their opponents' suggestions while doubling down on their own.

Rather, the specialists expressed their interest by asking, "So you don't really see any validity in this proposal?"

Fourth, professionals challenge their counterparts more than normal negotiators. At least one of the experts' remarks concluded in a question mark for every five they made.

Fifth, professionals are far more aware of their own and colleagues' moods during the process.

For example, if they are frustrated by anything, they would express their dissatisfaction and inquire whether the other side feels the same way.

When you bring all of these differences together, you have a significantly better chance of breaking the overconfidence loop and getting individuals to reconsider their positions.

Bad Blood on the Diamond: Diminishing Prejudice by Destabilizing Stereotypes

According to psychologists, many of our views are commonly held yet rarely questioned.

"Why do people establish stereotypes, and how can we urge others to rethink them?" is the subject we'll tackle in this part.

That's a large issue, and the solution is counterfactual reasoning, as defined by psychology. It invites us to consider how our lives may have unfolded differently and how that might have influenced our perspectives on the world.

For example, we may consider posing the following questions to people:

  • What if you were born Asian, Black, Native American, or Hispanic? How would your preconceptions change?
  • What would your viewpoints be if you were raised on a farm rather than in a city?
  • If you had been born in the 1700s, what'd you hold a different view?

This aids people in realizing that many of the members of a group they previously despised are not as bad as they thought. This helps individuals recognize that they might have easily held alternative prejudices if put in different situations, destabilizing their bias.

Vaccine Whisperers and Mild-Mannered Interrogators: How the Right Kind of Listening Motivates People to Change

A female lead listening to feedback from her team and taking notes on it.

Measles is increasing for the first time in more than a half-century, owing to a lack of vaccination. People do not really believe the science behind it, for the most part.

Governments have attempted to prosecute their path to glory by fining and imprisoning individuals, but this has failed.

Rather than using carrots and sticks, Grant proposes that the solution lies in inverse charisma, which characterizes a great listener's magnetic characteristic.

Motivational interviewing is a powerful listening method that you may utilize. It is the most well-proven and effective practical theory that behavioral science has ever generated.

It's built on three primary strategies:

  • Posing open-ended inquiries
  • Reflective listening
  • Validating the other person's willingness to improve and their capacity to do so

It's not usually because they disagree with counsel that people disregard it. It's generally due to our natural aversion to the sense that someone else is making our decisions for us.

According to studies in this field, people feel free to investigate their beliefs more completely, notice more subtlety in them, and express their thinking process more openly when they are interacting with compassionate, non-judgmental, and attentive listeners.

They are more likely to investigate their own motives and justifications for modifying their thoughts rather than seeking to explain their subjective positions.

Part III: Collective Rethinking—Creating Communities of Lifelong Learners

A female continue studying even after graduation, a sign of lifelong learning.

Charged Conversations: Depolarizing Our Divided Discussions

Binary bias is a psychological condition that affects humans. In an attempt to find clarity and closure, we tend to divide a complicated continuum into two groups.

Grant mentions Al Gore as an example of how he delivers his arguments about climate change's catastrophic character.

He is encouraging individuals on the fence to withdraw from or reject the problem by turning a complicated topic into one with scientists on one side and "climate deniers" on the other.

The answer to this challenge is called complexifying. It entails demonstrating that a particular topic may be seen from various angles.

Including cautions is one of the ways to overcome this shortcoming in your explanation of complicated subjects. Single research, or even a series of trials, seldom provides definitive results. The limitations of the findings are discussed in detail by the scientists.

Rewriting the Textbook: Teaching Students to Question Knowledge

We all went to school in a system where one person (the instructor) provided knowledge to the pupils in a lecturing manner.

This paradigm has remained unchanged despite technological advancements over the previous decade. Simply put, we're becoming better at offering the same approach at a larger scale.

While it's evident that lectures may be interesting and educational, as seen by TED speeches and other inspirational films, Grant questions if they're the best way to educate. They aren't, as it turns out, especially when it comes to assisting us in our adaptation.

Since lectures aren't meant to allow for discussion or debate, we're turning students into passive recipients of knowledge rather than the engaged thinkers we badly need.

Active learning is the cure to this, and it entails getting the student intimately involved in learning.

Grant urges his Wharton students to question what they learn by giving them a project. They must question a common practice or dispute ideas presented in class.

A "passion talk day"—a whole day of "passion talks" when students may give a presentation on anything they are enthusiastic about—was among the ideas that came out of that project.

This prompts his pupils to consider how they learn and from whom they may learn (everyone).

That's Not the Way We've Always Done It: Building Cultures of Learning at Work.

A male worker constantly finding for new knowledge even during work. This shows that learning does not stop after school.

Rethinking isn't only a personal trait. It's a characteristic of an organization that is mostly determined by its culture.

In performance-oriented environments, the corporation's standard operating procedures are frequently clung to. This isn't always a negative thing because it's a tried and true method of achieving the desired results. However, it becomes a vice when individuals stop questioning where the process could be flawed and how it could be improved.

Learning cultures are built on a foundation of psychological safety and responsibility. Individuals are continuously looking for new and better ways to do things. The middle ground occurs when they are both present, despite appearing to be total opposites.

People choose to stay in their comfort zones when they have psychological security but no responsibility. People in the anxiety zone prefer to remain silent when there is a responsibility but no safety.

Amy Edmondson of Harvard University coined the phrase psychological safety. It's the assumption that you won't be penalized if you make a mistake that fosters the kind of innovation and modest risk-taking that helps businesses thrive.

So, how then do you start a learning organization?

You may start by confessing some of your flaws to your team and inviting constructive feedback regularly to develop a culture of psychological safety. This will encourage people to admit wrong and focus on correcting problems instead of pushing them under the rug.

To foster a culture of process accountability, have everyone ask themselves,

  • "How do you know that if we try that new approach, it won't work?" or
  • "How do you know that this was what caused that mistake?"

It's a simple but effective way to keep everyone concentrated on getting a better way forward while ensuring we don't endorse opinion as a fact.


This book enables us to let go of information and ideas that are no longer serving us effectively and discover our identity in adaptability rather than consistency in a world where we are being forced to reassess practically everything.

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