How not to get stuck on a mountain of stupidity? Insights from a book on rethinking
In ordinary life, many of us prefer to have the comfort of belief instead of the discomfort of doubt. We mostly avoid conflict and surround ourselves with people who agree with us. But in doing so we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to discover new things, to overcome stereotypes, to change outdated views.
The book “Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know” is about learning to rethink what we have and what we aspire to. Be warned right away: this book will change you a lot. It is no coincidence that it is read by many and successful and wealthy people, and the book itself has become a New York Times bestseller.
Below we will tell you what we consider to be the most stunning insights from the book’s author, Adam Grant.
We don’t like it when our beliefs are questioned
The renowned sociologist Murray Davies argues that it is not truthful ideas that survive in today’s world, but interesting ones. And what makes them interesting is that they conflict with beliefs that are not the most stable. Did you know that the moon may have formed inside the molten Earth from magma? That a narwhal tusk is actually a tooth?
We usually welcome the opportunity to revisit an idea or notion that doesn’t mean much to us. At first we are surprised (“Really?”), then we show interest (“Tell me more!”) and admiration (“Wow!”). But when fundamental beliefs are questioned, we shut ourselves off from the new information and meet it without any curiosity.
It’s as if we have a miniature dictator living in our heads, controlling the flow of facts to the brain. Psychologists call it a totalitarian ego, and its task is to prevent the existing worldview from being threatened.
The beliefs diagram. Source here and below is the book: “Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know” by Adam Grant.
Here’s another curious thing: the higher a person’s IQ, the more likely he is to follow stereotypes, because then he quickly recognizes patterns and clings to them. In a recent experiment, it was found that the smarter a person is, the harder it is for him to change his beliefs.
From this we can draw one important conclusion:
Thinking as genius does not mean being able to rethink.
We often confuse confidence with competence
In one study of scientists, the participants who scored the lowest on emotional intelligence not only overestimated their skills, but challenged the results, calling them inaccurate and untrue. And they were also less eager to learn and improve themselves.
All of us are not good at something, and more often than not we are aware of it. But sometimes we overestimate desirable skills, such as the ability to recognize the emotions of the person we are talking to or to carry on a conversation at ease.
Overconfidence begins in the transition from novice to amateur. The danger lurks in our limited knowledge. We do not have enough information about many areas of life to doubt our beliefs or to be convinced of our ignorance.
We know just enough to confidently give out advice and assessments, and we do not realize that we have climbed straight to the top of Mount Stupidity and have remained there.
The trap of a mountain of stupidity.
Do not confuse confidence with competence. Remember the Dunning-Kruger effect: a high opinion of oneself is usually unreasonable and hinders self-development. To avoid an exaggerated opinion of your knowledge in a certain subject, think about how you would explain it to a person who is uninformed.
Sometimes we fall into the trap of premature identity
We often become attached to our life plans. Once we choose one, we make it part of ourselves and build up commitment. People go into writing for the love of reading, and then find out that they have no aptitude for it. Trying to please the family, they choose the profession that their parents wished for them, and abandon their dream. People get divorced because they do not want to have children, and many years later they realize that they want to be parents.
Having realized the wrongness of their choice, many people believe that it is too late to change anything. Too much has been invested to give it all up: pity the salary, status in society, skills, and time spent.
The typical workweek as a result of premature identity.
The fear of losing what has been accumulated over the years is understandable. But think about the following: what will happen to you next? Perhaps it is better to lose the past two or three years than the next twenty years? In fact, premature identity is like a band-aid, caulking the crisis of true identity, but it does not heal.
Beware of falling into the cycle of arrogance
Sometimes we get caught in a cycle of arrogance. First, an erroneous opinion is built into the information bubble, causing us to accept only the data that supports it. This causes us to become proud. Then the beliefs are locked into echo chambers, and we hear only those who echo, approve, and support us. The fortress thus erected may seem impregnable.
Scientists also call this effect the “flat Earth” effect. This hints that by limiting our thinking we continue to think that the Earth is flat, when in fact it is not.
An example of the cycle of arrogance.
With our arrogance we imprison ourselves. To avoid this, we must not be slower to think, but faster to rethink.
It begins with intellectual humility – the admission that we don’t know something. Each of us has a long list of topics in which we are ignorant. Here are what the author names: art, financial markets, fashion, chemistry, cooking, why British accents in songs sound like American, and why it is impossible to tickle yourself.
By admitting our ignorance, we open the door to doubt. Not trusting the information we have, we begin to search for more. The search leads to new discoveries that fuel modesty, demonstrating how much we still have to learn.
Knowledge is power, acknowledging ignorance is wisdom.
We like the usual methods, but they are not always good
In 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded as a result of a disastrously superficial analysis of the reliability of the o-rings. It was necessary to postpone the launch, but NASA relied on evidence that there had been no problems with the rings on previous missions. On launch day, it was unusually cold, the o-ring snapped off the booster, and a jet of gas from it burned through the fuel tank. Seven crew members died.
In 2003, the space shuttle Columbia fell apart under similar circumstances. After launch, the crew on the ground noticed that the insulation of the spacecraft was falling off, but most agreed that there was nothing wrong here – it had happened before, and there were no bad consequences. The topic was closed and we moved on to discussing possible changes to shorten the preparations for the next mission. But the loss of the heat shield turned out to be critical, one of its pieces broke through the left wing and hot gases penetrated through the hole inside, which led to an explosion. Seven astronauts died in the crash.
In a performance culture, people tend to become attached to familiar methods. It’s bad enough that methods once recognized as optimal don’t change later on. Everyone praises their advantages, no one sees the drawbacks, and no one wonders if it’s time to improve them.
The most common explanations for people’s reluctance to think and rethink what they are doing.
Unfortunately, this problem cannot be solved by any one effective method. Moreover, we all know that “one in the field is not a warrior”, and if one person begins to rethink his tasks, others may not support him.
But it is still necessary to start rethinking. At least start with yourself. It is necessary to constantly criticize all of the accumulated methods. You should try to look for weaknesses in familiar solutions. Use responsibility for the process and always strive for the best.
How conflicts and disputes can help us become better?
Perhaps you are a completely conflict-free person or, on the contrary, a skilled negotiator. Perhaps you are used to smoothing over corners, avoiding arguments and uncomfortable people. But to start the cycle of rethinking, you MUST HAVE those conflicts and the disputants.
Survey results: Why do I avoid conflicts?
Here’s an example. In 2000, the Pixar Corporation was at the height of its fame. With the help of computers, the staff reimagined animation in their first blockbuster “Toy Story”, and delivered two fresh hits. However, the founders of the studio were not going to rest on their laurels. To ensure that success did not turn into a routine, they invited director Brad Bird. He had just released his critically acclaimed debut film, which had failed at the box office, and he was eager to take on something big and bold. When Bird laid out his concept, Pixar’s technical director rejected his proposal, saying it would take a decade and $500 million to bring it to fruition.
Brad wasn’t going to give up. He rounded up the renegades of the studio, who were considered disgruntled with everything and everyone, perpetual wranglers. Some called them “lousy sheep”, some called them “pirates”. Brad warned them that no one believed in the project. Four years later, his team not only produced Pixar’s most challenging film, but also lowered the production cost per minute. “The Superfamily” brought the company $631 million in revenue from international screenings and won an Oscar for best feature-length animated film.
Notice what Brad did not do. He wasn’t looking for the easy way or the compliant people on the team. Yes, the latter make a great support group, they are always complimentary and encouraging. But rethinking requires very different people who will take nothing for granted, point out blind spots, and help correct deficiencies. They will start the cycle of rethinking, forcing those around them to be more humble, question their opinions, and seek new information.