I recently read Adam Grant’s book “Think Again: The Power to Knowing What You Don’t Know,” which examines how we incorporate (or don’t) new knowledge into our thinking. Like most of Grant’s books, it’s filled with scientific research that’s peppered throughout his book. It’s a worthwhile read.
I resonate with many of his key points. I started and operated a successful mental health department at The Everett Clinic for over a quarter of a century and saw many changes in health care over those years. But I noticed, over time, I was less open to new ideas.
When trying to execute change, I took on what Dr. Grant refers to as a “preacher” role with our staff — trying to convince them of the value of my ideas. Resting on 35 years of clinical and administrative experience in behavioral health care gave me a unique perspective but didn’t encourage me to entertain new ideas. While experience is good, an inquisitive mind is even better.
He also describes the “prosecutor” approach to change management, when an individual tries to poke holes in the other person’s argument. The “politician” approach is often based on swaying others through persuasion. And then there’s the scientific approach, which focuses on presenting data and scientific evidence to facilitate change.
Businesses rise and fall on their willingness to entertain new ideas, knowledge and forward thinking. The first smartphone, the BlackBerry, was revolutionary when it was first introduced and is now almost forgotten.
In 2009, it accounted for nearly half of the smartphone market. By 2014, it captured less than 1% of the market. The CEO was unwilling to rethink his vision. Change in the digital age moves at light speed. Keeping up requires continual reevaluation of assumptions and beliefs, which is both a skill set and a mindset.
Grant notes that innovators share a willingness and even an enthusiasm for testing new ideas and evaluating their results. They love the scientific approach. But even more importantly, mistakes are seen as opportunities to generate new theories to test. These individuals are excited about learning, even when new data contradicts their hypotheses. They’re able to detach from their beliefs.
Grant describes a situation where health care providers try to convince a parent to vaccinate their youngster against measles, which is particularly germane today, as public health experts wonder how to encourage individuals to get COVID-19 vaccinations.
He observes that preaching, arguing with and trying to persuade people to do something that they don’t want to do is ineffective. Instead, it’s helpful to employ more of a motivational approach that encourages the individual to evaluate their own beliefs by asking open-ended questions that urge the individual to think about what’s important to them.
Drs. William Miller and Stephen Rollnick, two psychologists, developed a change methodology called “motivational interviewing,” which facilitates behavior change through a Socratic approach — asking good questions, listening to the answers and engaging the individual in their own motivation for change.
So, what are some of my takeaways from Adam Grant’s book?
Be honest with yourself when your mind is closed — then crack it open. Sometimes it’s hard to see when you’re closed-minded about something. It’s easier for others to see. Be brutally honest with yourself, and if you are stubbornly holding on to a view, open the door to new ideas.
Read authors who you disagree with. Seek out evidence that contradicts your beliefs. Try to understand opposing viewpoints. We often share the same goals but imagine different ways of getting there. Focus on what we hold in common and take the time to learn more about other viewpoints.
During this time of greater polarization in our world, we need to find ways of opening our minds and learning from each other.