Think Again Themes
The main themes in Think Again are rethinking as a necessary cognitive skill, focusing on personal values, and thinking like a scientist.
- Rethinking as a necessary cognitive skill: Grant’s book highlights the importance of mental flexibility to solving problems, communicating with others, and evaluating one’s decisions and opinions.
- Focusing on personal values: Grant cautions against overidentification with one’s beliefs and instead emphasizes the benefits of identifying with one’s personal values.
- Thinking like a scientist: While many people adopt the mindset of a politician, prosecutor, or preacher when solving problems, Grant encourages adopting the mindset of a scientist.
Last Updated on October 6, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 792
Rethinking as a Necessary Cognitive Skill
Grant makes the case at the very beginning of Think Again that mental agility and flexibility could easily prove to be the difference between life and death. We are often keen to keep ourselves updated on popular culture and the status and relevance of our possessions; however, we often neglect to update our thinking in the same way. Our strategies and the opinions that we hold about certain subjects tend to remain unchanged since their initial formation. This can sometimes prove to be disastrous because it can prevent us from reacting to problems effectively. When we fail to reconsider our assumptions about something, we limit our own ability to generate new courses of action or ways of thinking, any of which could be much more effective in dissolving a problem than our default approaches.
Learning how to rethink can save us from a sinking ship. It can make us productively doubt our commitments—whether it’s worth staying somewhere just because we’re already there. We should seek to embrace the joy of being wrong as a step toward being right, embrace doubt as a sign that we still have more work to do toward developing bonafide expertise, and engage in productive conflict to explore other perspectives and better understand the strengths and weaknesses of our positions. Above all, rethinking means changing and responding effectively. When somebody says something we haven’t considered before, the appropriate response is not dismissal, but to take a pause and then maybe ask questions. When we do something like this instead of holding fast to our starting points, we generate more sophisticated and complex views than we started out with, and we get better at making decisions and communicating with others.
Focusing on Personal Values
One of the frequent barriers to rethinking is overidentification: our habits tend to become part of our sense of self. People grow to consider their opinions, decisions, and work as part of their identity, which makes them perceive changes or challenges to them as possibly serious threats to their sense of self. Grant suggests that, instead of doing this, we should try to focus more on identifying with our sense of values, leaving ourselves open to changing its expressions. This way, we feel free to change our opinions and decisions about something as long as the underlying values still hold true. We begin to understand that we can be mistaken without being diminished. It also gives the added benefit of allowing us to be more specific with how we construct our work roles and opinions in order to better match up with our values as we begin to think of where we would like to actually put our attention and energy.
This strategy of clarifying values is also a good way of establishing common ground between parties. In all likelihood, there will be some similarities, but even if not, it helps people to understand where each of them is coming from and get a feel for their sense of integrity.
Thinking Like a Scientist
Grant enumerates four primary possible ways of approaching a problem, each way resembling a certain profession: politicians are focused on persuasion, drawing approval, and improving one’s personal reputation; prosecutors are focused on criticism and dismantling the opposition; preachers are focused on extolling the virtues of a particular course and converting others to it; scientists are focused on investigation and experimentation. Each approach has its pros and cons, and moments where they are necessary or effective. But if we want to become fluent rethinkers, thinking like a scientist is often the key to success. It helps protect us from latching on to any particular idea too fast and to continuously look for different ways of thinking about something. When an experiment was performed comparing different startups, the ones that were taught to think of their business strategies as a series of experiments had the best overall success and longevity.
Science is not reserved for people who work in labs or research. Science is an activity, a way of thinking that anyone can do, and it can be applied in almost every part of our life. For example, when considering different possible careers, instead of simply trying to work with your imagination and gut feelings, you’re better off carrying out experiments and inquiries. You can approach people who carry out that kind of work and ask them what their workday is like, what a person would need to be in the business, and so on. You can do test periods to see what it’s actually like to do the work. The accumulating data will help you judge more accurately whether you are suitable for a line of work or not.