My Most Important Reads of 2021: #9
Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant
Practical and hard hitting, Think again cuts straight through the noise and tries to infiltrate the never ending conflict of “sides” with a secret weapon called humility. Knowing what we don’t know is a powerful tool it turns out, especially when it comes to empathizing with ideas that challenge our own.
If I had a single critique of this book I would be that the author doesn’t spend enough time detailing how living with conviction and operating on the principle that one should always be changing ones mind can work together. The truth is that we also need to rest on convictions in order to actually live in this world, and this is as important to open discussion as a willingness to change our perspective. This is of course where conflict tends to arise, which is likely why he doesn’t tackle it head on, but by not addressing this necessary tension I think some of what he writes could be misapplied as rhetoric and weaponized (as a science versus religion war for example).
I think this book has the power to transform how it is that we process and articulate information which is a necessary tool when it comes to learning how to converse with one another. I especially appreciated how he advocates for pushing through the challenges of debate rather than shutting down conversations. Embracing the power of the spirited debate is a lost art in our online world, and it would be well to reclaim it in service of humility. We were once able to hash things out with passion and then head out for dinner or coffee as though this were a normal part of how forming friendship operates. Now debate is reduced to stating opinions, blocking/ignoring, or stating tired phrases like “I’m glad it worked for you but…”
In reality, science and rationalism is simply a way of rationalizing the knowledge we presently have, and we do that within our individual convictions and worldviews. Sometimes those convictions change, but not often. Nor should they until they must. That is why hard and challenging discourse matters. One trick of the art of discussion that comes into play here is both rationalizing from within our own point of perspective and working assumptions and then stepping out and seeing the same rational argument play out from within anothers point of perspective and working assumptions. Both hold equal value and both are necessary for two people to come together and understand the other from within these differing points of view using the same science/data. That’s how we further an argument together..
Discussion and debate is a lost art, and online conversation can be more disheartening and damaging than helpful and fruitful. A book like this could hopefully help recover some of what has been lost, helping to cut through the noise of the online world and create the kind of safe places where we are willing to commit to heated debate and allow it to unsettle, challenge and shape us on ways that make us better people, better societies, and a better world.