Adam Grant on Thinking Again

27th January, 2021

I’m delighted to be sharing a publication day, 2 February, with Adam Grant and his new book, Think Again.

Well, mostly delighted: that’s one fewer slot on the bestseller lists for me to aim for. Think Again is a stone cold classic and destined to do extremely well.

The book explores three key areas: individual rethinking (the challenges and benefits of being willing to reconsider your views); interpersonal rethinking (how do you get other people to think again?); and collective rethinking (can we shape a culture of respectful and engaged debate?).

It’s full of vignettes – I loved the descriptions of ‘the Difficult Conversations lab’, the robot debater, and the Icelandic presidential election – and it also performs the difficult task of describing complex research in a way that makes the research feel relevant, and the reader feel smart.

Adam Grant makes writing seem effortless; he’s funny and charming, he tells you what you need to know without getting lost in the detail.

There is some common ground between Think Again and my own book, The Data Detective. Think Again is a book about the science and psychology of changing your mind and the minds of others; The Data Detective is a book about clear thinking, armed with the tool of statistics.

My opening and final chapters, in particular, discuss the challenges of rigid preconceptions and the power of open-minded curiosity; there are some enjoyable resonances between the two books.

One difference, however, is that Adam spends considerable time and energy on the problem of persuasion – how to help other people change their minds.

I had all but given up on persuasion: I’m just happy if I can think straight myself, let alone talk sense into anyone else.

But Adam has encouraged me to think again about that. His chapters on debating and on ‘motivational interviewing’ were fantastic.

How does a ‘vaccine whisperer’ persuade severely hesitant parents to vaccinate their children? By listening to their concerns, and not actively trying to change their minds. Fascinating and moving.

I also found the complementarities between the books enjoyable. It’s always great fun to read someone you respect wrestling with similar issues – for example, the relationship between expertise and clear thinking.

This is such an important idea to me that I began my book with it. My opening chapter discusses the strange case of Abraham Bredius, perhaps the world’s leading expert on Johannes Vermeer.

Bredius was cruelly tricked by what now seems to be a crude forgery. Why? Because he wanted so desperately to believe that his expertise became a liability. He was able to persuade himself with scraps of evidence that you or I wouldn’t have noticed in a hundred years of study.

Adam discusses some of the same psychological research – and reassuringly, he finds and discusses other studies that point to similar conclusions. He writes, “the better you are at crunching numbers, the more spectacularly you fail at analysing patterns that contradict your views”.

Exactly. It’s not that expertise is a liability – far from it. It’s that if you start in a hole of ideology or partisan argument or simple wishful thinking, your expertise will NOT dig you out. First, calm down and wise up about your preconceptions. Only then start to apply your expertise.

I loved reading this book, learned a lot, and strongly recommend it.

I am interviewing Adam about Think Again at the How To Academy on Friday evening, 19 February.

My new book, “The Data Detective” is published in the US/Canada on 2nd February.

“Nobody makes the statistics of everyday life more fascinating and enjoyable than Tim Harford.”- Bill Bryson

“This entertaining, engrossing book about the power of numbers, logic and genuine curiosity”- Maria Konnikova

I’ve set up a storefront on Bookshop in the United States and the United Kingdom – have a look and see all my recommendations; Bookshop is set up to support local independent retailers.

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