Expand your cognitive arsenal

As human beings, we are often very rigid and set in our ways. This certainly applies to the way that we cling to our preconceived notions and most deeply cherished beliefs. But what if our whole approach to intelligence and cognitive ability is incorrect? What if the ability to pivot and reconsider things is more important than sheer computational power? These are the sort of questions Adam Grant considers in his most recent book, Think Again.

First and foremost, Think Again is an extremely engaging book. Grant is a gifted writer, and he selects his anecdotes well. From the harrowing tale of quick thinking in a deadly forest fire to the inspiring story of how musician Daryl Davis dedicated his life to changing the hearts and minds of KKK members, Grant knows how to tell a story.

In addition to being a great story teller, Adam Grant is also a professor of psychology at Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He got tenure at the age of 28, so it goes without saying that he knows his stuff. He brings a great deal of research from the field of organizational psychology to bear in this book to bolster the more anecdotal elements.

The basic premise of the book is simple. Our society tends to associate cognitive ability with raw intelligence. This is insufficient. As he outlines again and again, there are plenty of extremely intelligent people who fail because of an inability to rethink their preconceived notions. We need to rethink our understanding of cognitive ability to emphasize rethinking, pivoting, taking stock of new information and challenges to our underlying beliefs.

The book devotes a lot of time to rhetoric and persuasion, especially with how to debate people on hot button political issues. The insertion of politics shouldn’t turn readers off, as there are some good underlying ideas. For instance, Grant cites studies showing that you are more likely to win people over in a disagreement by displaying empathy and meeting them on their own terms, instead of unleashing a bombardment of arguments.

Another good piece of actionable advice is to surround yourself with a “challenger circle” instead of associating with yes-men. He also contrasts relationship-conflict and task-conflict, noting that high performance teams maximize the latter, while diminishing the former. In other words, the most effective teams are comfortable enough with each other personally to be able to tear each other’s ideas to shreds with constructive criticism. This creates work environments with a culture of learning.

Think Again confronts the complexity and rapid pace of 2021 head on. The book isn’t a complete game-changer by any means, but Grant’s focus on pivoting, self-criticism, and adaptation make it a useful tool to have in your arsenal.

Think Again by Adam Grant is available for purchase here.

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