Last Updated on October 6, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 407
The prologue of Adam Grant’s Think Again opens with an anecdote on Wagner Dodge, an elite firefighter who found himself and fifteen other smokejumpers trying to outrun a wildfire near the Mann Gulch in Montana. Grant commends Dodge’s mental fitness, as Dodge—unlike most of his colleagues—survived the ordeal by giving up on trying to run and instead building an escape fire.
While most people define mental fitness (or intelligence) as the ability to think and learn, Grant holds that rethinking and unlearning is more important. He illustrates instances of the first-instinct fallacy, in which most students hesitate to reconsider their first answer even though answer revisions often improve test scores. Grant points to cognitive laziness as part of the problem, as we are often resistant to letting go of old views and reconsidering new ones. Like the frog who is dropped into a cauldron of lukewarm water and realizes too late that the temperature is rising to fatal levels, people’s inability to rethink and reassess their situation often leads to their undoing.
Grant maintains that Dodge survived the tragic Mann Gulch wildfire because he was able to override his well-learned response of running away and instead build an escape fire—even though he had no prior training or experience with it. Another thing he points out is that some firefighters, even as they are running uphill from a wildfire, do not drop their sacks of heavy equipment—as they have learned to see these tools as an extension of their body. Grant then likens these firefighter tools to the assumptions, instincts, and habits that people cling to in their everyday lives.
In another anecdote, Grant reveals that he was one of the cofounders of Harvard’s first online social network, predating Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook. He admits that he was unable to look beyond the bounds of their campus and recognize the network’s entrepreneurial potential. Since then, he has committed to continuously rethinking his viewpoints.
Finally, Grant concludes the prologue with the 1978 US Forest Service declaration that wildfires that are no threat to any human population should be allowed to run their course—a claim that had been advocated for by scientists since the 1880s. The numerous smokejumpers who perished putting out these wildfires would have been spared if this policy had been rethought earlier. Grant announces that Think Again is an invitation to readers to master the art of rethinking.