I am one of those who admit that I have prejudices. Is this a source of pride for me? I’m not sure about that. Am I uncomfortable? I’m not sure about that either, but what I know is that I have preconceptions. That’s why when a friend of mine said this book, Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Professor of Organizational Psychology Adam Grant, is newly released, and a great read about prejudice that I should check out, I immediately started. My friend was right. This book explains with examples what we know, and why we should re-examine what we accept by heart or not. So, did I get rid of my prejudices? Let me save that answer for the end of the article. First, let’s look at what Grant is talking about.
“Intelligence is traditionally viewed as the ability to think and learn. Yet in a turbulent world, there’s another set of cognitive skills that might matter more: the ability to rethink and unlearn.’ says Grant. He then mentions that we often prefer the ease of connecting with old views rather than the difficulty of grappling with new ones, expressing that there are deeper forces behind our resistance to rethinking and continues as follows:
Questioning ourselves makes the world more ambiguous. It requires us to admit that facts may have changed, that what was once true can now be false. Rethinking something, we deeply believe in can be perceived as a threat to ourselves, and it can feel like something is breaking out of us. But this is not true in every field. We can be very innovative when it comes to our tangible assets, our clothes, our belongings. However, when it comes to our knowledge and opinion, we tend to maintain availability.
Grant talks about listening to opinions that make us feel good, rather than ideas that make us think hard and then cites a well-known example:
You have probably heard that if you put the frog in a pot of hot water, it will jump out right away. But if you put the frog in warm water and gradually raise the temperature, the frog will wait and eventually die. Because he lacks the ability to rethink the situation and does not recognize the threat until it is too late. I did some research on this popular story told as if it were based on reality to get a better sense of the story and I discovered a problem: The frog thrown into boiling water is badly scalded or runs away. But the frog performs better in the pot boiling over time, so the frog jumps out when the temperature of the water reaches an uncomfortable point. So, it is not the frogs that fail to reevaluate, it is us.
Everyone has a way of thinking that they use regularly and rarely question or scrutinize. These include beliefs, assumptions, ideas and more. The author talks about two different views about intelligence right here. First intelligence in the traditional view, is the ability to think and learn, he says. Then alternatively intelligence is the ability to rethink and learn, that is flexible thinking, he puts forward his view. Grant argues that these cognitive skills are essential in an increasingly complex and changing world. Rethinking can help you come up with new solutions to old problems and rethink old solutions for new problems. This is a way to learn more and experience less regret from the people around you. The difference in wisdom is being able to give up some of our most precious traits when the time comes.
Most of us are happy to stay true to our beliefs and opinions on the subjects we know and are experts in. Yet rethinking is a skill. We often fail to do this. When other people need to change their minds, it is easy to notice. However, it is difficult for us to do the same ourselves. On the contrary, we tend to make our beliefs more permanent. Some of the arguments we take refuge in instead of rethinking are:
‘This is not this shape …. my experiences do not say that it is very complex, no need to think about it anymore or we have always done it this way …
However, we shouldn’t say such things. I am doing the opposite; I ask myself where and what could I have done wrong or at least how could I do better. I try to learn and compare what is happening around me.
Adam Grant: Rethinking is the foundation of scientific thought. You need to doubt what you know, wonder about what you don’t know, and update your view based on new data. Reveal new facts by testing hypotheses and doing experiments and always seek the truth. Changing your mind is a sign of intellectual integrity and a response to the evidence. Hypotheses have a place in our lives as well as in the laboratory. Experiments can shape our daily decisions. Generally great entrepreneurs and leaders have strong ideas and are open-minded. For this we follow and love them. They have a scientist inquisitiveness but like many scientists, they can behave the opposite. In real life scientists and entrepreneurs also tend to neglect professional behavior. They may tend to be blind to their beliefs instead of questioning and they rarely admit that they are wrong.
Grant’s idea is that mental strength does not guarantee mental skill! No matter how much brainpower you have, if you are not motivated to change your mind, you miss the opportunity to think again. Studies reveal that the higher we score on an IQ test, the more likely we are to get stuck in patterns. According to recent experiments, the smarter we are, the harder we must work to update our beliefs. Many people are more conservative when their intelligence is questioned. I guess the reasons for my prejudices are similar, it would be a lie if I were to say I was not surprised.
Two basic biases drive this model in psychology:
One is verification bias; seeing what we hope to see.
The second is the prejudice to be desired; the tendency to act in a way that increases others’ acceptance or approval of you.
These biases don’t just prevent us from using our intelligence, Grant says. We could turn our intelligence into a weapon against the truth. Our intelligence generates reasons to cling passionately to our belief, to our cause. Whatever happens to us, we do it to ourselves.
I personally do not like to be praised, especially to my face, and I will distance myself from those who do this immediately, and when possible, not see them again. Also, the value of those who accept what I say without question or consideration is low in my eyes. But I never attempt to fight with the self-ignorant (**). By this, I mean those who speak to people with low awareness just to argue.
Adam Grant: The sad thing is that we are often unaware of the flaws that appear in our thinking. My favorite bias is the “I’m not biased” where people believe they are more objective than others. Intelligent people are more likely to fall into this trap. The smarter one is the harder it can be to understand your own limits. Thinking well makes rethinking also difficult. After all, the purpose of learning is not to validate our beliefs, but to improve.
Right here I suppose I am in the minority, as I believe I accept my prejudices. But that’s all, so I just admit it, I’m not passionate about it. This is what I call pre-acceptance. Having this type of acceptance allows people to quickly move forward while thinking and considering experience gained while ageing, this turns into a kind of insight.
The author describes the cycle of rethinking as follows:
Humility ➡️ Doubt ➡️ Curiosity ➡️ Discovery.
He describes the cycle of overconfidence as follows: Pride ➡️ Belief ➡️ Confirmation and Being Desired ➡️ Verification.
Grant continues: It all starts with intellectual humility. We should all be able to make a long list of areas in which we are ignorant. If knowledge is power, knowing what we do not know is wisdom. Accepting what we do not know and understanding exactly what we do not know will show us the way how to know them.
I think I have an advantage here. I do not hesitate to remain humble and will list things I do not know, even my mistakes.
Grant speaks of “mentor” and “fraudulent” syndromes: If one’s self-confidence becomes more than his/her competence; they may fall victim to the mentor syndrome; The ideal level of trust is somewhere between that of being a mentor and a tad dishonest. However, the question remains on how to find that point.
Later, he describes the Dunning-Kruger effect, Adam Grant: This defines the disconnection between competence and trust. Those who are most confident are usually the least competent. Although these people do not know, they act as if they know the best. As people gain experience, their self-confidence rises faster than their competence and from that point on, their confidence will be above their competence. As they gain experience, they lose some of their humility. This starts a cycle of overconfidence and prevents us from doubting what we know and wondering what we do not know. We are now unaware of our own ignorance. Those who are new to any field rarely fall into the Dunning-Kruger trap. For example, if you don’t know anything about football, you probably wouldn’t believe you know more than a coach.
The mind needs humility to nourish itself properly, Grant says. Humility is also often misunderstood: It is not a result of low self-esteem. It is admitting that we are imperfect and fallible. Many people picture trust as a seesaw. When we gain too much confidence, we tend towards arrogance. If you lose trust, you will become humble and docile. This makes us feel bad, we are afraid of being humble. We want to keep the seesaw in balance. We don’t want to be perceived as someone who has lost their self-confidence. As such, we want to have enough confidence. The ideal situation: It is the situation in which a humble individual with self-confidence believes in their abilities yet has sufficient suspicion and flexibility to recognize their mistakes. The individual can be inquisitive and flexible in this way and is always seeking the truth. Confident humility can be learned.
In later chapters of the book, Adam Grant explains what kind of mistakes companies and other organizations encounter in their decision-making process by not “rethinking”. In summary, he says:
1. Some leaders surround themselves with their “yes sir” men and let the sycophants seduce them. Because instead of rethinking, they want to be constantly approved. Other people in need of approval are CEOs. Studies show a CEO who enjoys praise and compliance are overconfident and the firm suffers as a result. Instead of changing course, they stick to their current strategic plan and doom themselves to failure. We learn more from the people who challenge us, than from those who approve of us.
2. Strong leaders take criticism into account and become stronger. Weak leaders silence criticism and become weaker. In every society, people seek belonging and status. We become part of a group by identifying and take pride when our group succeeds.
3. After mental and social reasons, stereotypes are formed, it is difficult to eradicate them. Socially, the reason stereotypes are so popular is that we tend to relate to the people who have them. This makes stereotypes even more attractive. This is called group polarization and it has been proven in hundreds of experiments. Getting rid of these stereotypes can only happen when a different way of thinking or rethinking is gained. Otherwise, everything repeats itself.
4. In the last few years, psychological safety has become a buzzword in many workplaces. Although leaders could understand its importance, they often did not know exactly what it was and how to achieve it. Psychological security is not about loosening standards, comfort, tolerance, or unconditional praise. It is an environment of respect, trust, sincerity where people can raise their concerns and suggestions without fear of retaliation. This is the foundation of a learning culture. When we see people being punished for failures and mistakes, we worry about demonstrating our competence and protecting our careers. We learn to engage in self-limiting behavior and bite our tongue instead of raising questions and concerns. Sometimes it is because of the power distance: we’re afraid to challenge the top.
5. Risk in performance cultures is when we declare a routine the best, it is turning around in the same place in time. Social scientists have discovered that people are more likely to pursue the same bad action plans only when they are held accountable for whether the outcome is successful or not. Simply praising and rewarding the results is dangerous because bad strategies are over-trusted, and people are encouraged to do things the way they always do. The solution is to create an accountability process in which people measure how carefully different options are considered when deciding.
6. A bad decision process relies on shallow thinking. The foundation of a good process is deep and even rethinking and it enables people to form and express independent ideas.
7. Even if the outcome of a decision is positive, sometimes it cannot be qualified as a success. If it came out of a shallow process, it is a work of luck. If the decision process is deep, we can count it as an improvement.
8. In many organizations, leaders want assurance that the results will be positive before testing or investing in something new. This is the enemy of progress. That’s why companies like Amazon care about disagreement but implement the principle of loyalty. As Jeff Bezos explains in his annual report: successful results are achieved by encouraging employees to have the confidence to disagree rather than giving them orders. “I know we have different ideas about this, but would you bet me on it?
9. A review of California banks found that managers often continue to approve additional loans to customers whose previous loans had already defaulted. As the bankers signed the first loan, they felt obliged to justify their initial decision. Interestingly, banks with a high manager turnover ratio had a higher identification rate of non-performing loans. If you are not the person who gave the green light to the first loan, you have every motivation to rethink that client’s previous review. When the first decision-makers and subsequent decision-makers are separated in the process, it is more likely to rethink or re-evaluate.
10. When we dedicate ourselves to a plan and things don’t go the way we hoped, a rethink is usually not the first thing to do. Most people give up at the first bend. Others give up everything else to achieve their goals. It tends to put in twice as much effort for it. In doing so, our aim is only to proceed on the way we are determined and not to miss the target. The selfsatisfaction achieved at this point is worth all the difficulties. However, it is the solution to neither give up at the first bend nor go blindly to the end when things do not go well. It is necessary to rethink. Although this seems to slow us down and reconsidering decisions based on intermediate results, it saves us from absolute failure.
Adam Grant concludes: The evidence shows that if false scientific beliefs are not dealt with in elementary school, then they become difficult to change. Rethinking should become a regular habit. Unfortunately, traditional education methods sometimes do not allow students to acquire this habit.
He says correct education is a must right from the start.
As for me, I admitted that I was prejudiced and I know on what issues I am ignorant. In fact, I always go back and ask what I did wrong in my evaluations. I demand feedforward from young people, I am enlightened. I am not neglecting my education either. Though, it is mostly indirect in meetings and speeches and sometimes directly by my request.
Note: This article is open source and can be cited by mentioning the author. Does not require copyright.
(*) Grant, A. (2021), Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, Penguin Random House, pg.320.
(**) Opposing argument: Doç.Dr. Ibraim Emiroğlu, ‘Cedel Nedir (What is Cedel)’, D.E.Ü. İlahiyat Faculty Magazine, XII, Izmir, 1999, pgs. 17-37; https://islamansiklopedisi.org.tr/cedel, http://ktp.isam.org.tr/pdfdrg/D00036/1999_12/1999_12_EMIROGLUI.pdf