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Think Again - Book Highlights (Part 3)

This book explores the power and importance of rethinking and revising our beliefs and perspectives. The author argues that being open to changing our minds can lead to better decision-making, more creative thinking, and stronger relationships.

Chapter 8 - Charged Conversation

  • Presenting two extremes isn’t the solution; it’s part of the polarization problem. Psychologists call this binary bias. It’s a basic human tendency to seek clarity and closure by simplifying a complex continuum into two categories. To paraphrase the humorist Robert Benchley, there are two kinds of people: those who divide the world into two kinds of people: those who divide the world into two kinds of people and those who don’t. [165]

  • To overcome binary bias, a good starting point is to become aware of the range of perspectives across a given spectrum. [169]

  • It’s especially important to distinguish skeptics from deniers.

    • Skeptics have a healthy scientific stance: They don’t believe everything they see, hear or read. They ask critical questions and update their thinking as they gain access to new information.

    • Deniers are in the dismissive camp, locked in preacher, prosecutor or politician mode: They don’t believe anything that comes from the other side. They ignore or twist facts to support their predetermined conclusions. [169]

  • Skepticism is foundational to the scientific method, whereas denial is the a priori rejection of ideas without objective consideration.[170]

  • The greater the distance between us and an adversary, the more likely we are to oversimplify their actual motives and invent explanations that stray far from their reality. What works is not perspective-taking but perspective-seeking: actually talking to people to gain insight into the nuances of their views. That’s what good scientists do: instead of drawing conclusions about people based on minimal clues, they test their hypothesis by striking up conversations. [178]

  • Even if we disagree strongly with someone on a social issue, when we discover that she cares deeply about the issue, we trust her more. We might still dislike her, but we see her passion for a principle as a sign of integrity. We reject the belief but grow to respect the person behind it. [179]

  • As historian Ibram X. Kendi writes, “Racist and antiracist are not fixed identities. We can be a racist one minute and an antiracist the next.” Humans, like polarizing issues, rarely come in binaries. [182]

  • Charged conversation cries out for nuance. When we’re preaching prosecuting, or politicking, the complexity of reality can seem like an inconvenient truth. In scientist mode, it can be an invigorating truth—it means there are new opportunities for understanding and for progress. [183]

Chapter 9 - Rewriting the Textbook

  • Even if you’re not a teacher by profession, you probably have roles in which you spend time educating others—whether as a parent, a mentor, a friend, or a colleague. In fact, every time we try to help someone think again, we’re doing a kind of education. Whether we do our instruction in a classroom or in a boardroom, in an office or at our kitchen table, there are ways to make rethinking central to what—and how—we teach. [187]

  • A broader movement to teach kids to think like fact-checkers: the guidelines include:

    • Interrogate information instead of simply consuming it.

    • Reject rank and popularity as a proxy for reliability.

    • Understand that the sender of information is often not its source. [190]

  • As we approach any life transition—whether it’s the first job, a second marriage, or a third child—we can pause to ask people what they wish they’d known before they went through that experience. Once we’re on the other side of it, we can share what we ourselves should have rethought. [197]

  • When students confront complex problems, they often feel confused. A teacher’s natural impulse is to rescue them as quickly as possible so they don’t feel lost or incompetent. Yet psychologists find that one of the hallmarks of an open mind is responding to confusion with curiosity and interest. [199]

  • Confusion can be a cue that there’s new territory to be explored or a fresh puzzle to be solved. [199]

  • Good teachers introduce new thoughts, but great teachers introduce new ways of thinking. Collecting a teacher’s knowledge may help us solve the challenges of the day, but understanding how a teacher thinks can help us navigate the challenges of a lifetime. Ultimately, education is more than the information we accumulate in our heads. It’s the habits we develop as we keep revising our drafts and the skills we build to keep learning. [203]

Chapter 10 - That’s not the way we’ve always done it

  • Rethinking is more likely to happen in a learning culture, where growth is the core value and rethinking cycles are routine. In learning cultures, the norm is for people to know what they don’t know, doubt their existing practices, and stay curious about new routines to try out. [208]

  • Psychological safety could breed complacency. When trust runs deep in a team, people might not feel the need to question their colleagues or double-check their own work. [208]

  • Psychological safety is not a matter of relaxing standards, making people comfortable, being nice and agreeable or giving unconditional praise. It’s fostering a climate of respect, trust and openness in which people can raise concerns and suggestions without fear of reprisal. It’s the foundation of a learning culture. [209]

  • In performance cultures, the emphasis on results often undermines psychological safety. When we see people get punished for failures and mistakes, we become worried about proving our competence and protecting our careers. In performance cultures, we also censor ourselves in the presence of experts who seem to know all the answers—especially if we lack confidence in our own expertise [209]

  • How do you know? it’s a question we need to ask more often, both of ourselves and of others. The power lies in its frankness. It’s nonjudgmental—a straightforward expression of doubt and curiosity that doesn’t put people on the defensive. [211]

  • It takes confident humility to admit that we’re a work in progress. It shows that we care more about improving ourselves than proving ourselves. If that mindset spreads far enough within an organization, it can give people the freedom and courage to speak up. [215]

  • To build a learning culture, we also need to create a specific kind of accountability—one that leads people to think about the best practices in their workplaces. [216]

  • Focusing on results might be good for short-term performance, but it can be an obstacle to long-term learning. Social scientists find that when people are held accountable only for whether the outcome was a success or failure, they are more likely to continue with ill-fated courses of action. Exclusively praising and rewarding results is dangerous because it breeds overconfidence in poor strategies, incentivizing people to keep doing things the way they’ve always done them. It isn’t until a high-stakes decision goes horribly wrong that people pause to reexamine their practices. [217]

  • A bad decision process is based on shallow thinking. A good process is grounded in deep thinking and rethinking, enabling people to form and express independent opinions. [217]

  • When psychological safety exists without accountability, people tend to stay within their comfort zone, and when there’s accountability but not safety, people tend to stay silent in an anxiety zone. When we combine the two, we create a learning zone. People feel free to experiment—and to poke holes in one another’s experiments in service of making them better. They become a challenge network. [218]

  • Even if the outcome of a decision is positive, it doesn’t necessarily qualify as a success. If the process was sallow, you were lucky. If the decision process was deep, you can count it as an improvement: you’ve discovered a better practice. If the outcome is negative, it’s a failure only if the decision process was shallow. If the result was negative but you evaluated the decision thoroughly, you’ve run a smart experiment. [219]

  • We can’t run experiments in the past; we can only imagine the counterfactual in the present [222].

Chapter 11 - Escaping Tunnel Vision

  • We all have notions of whom we want to be and how we hope to lead our lives. They’re not limited to careers; from an early age, we develop ideas about where we’ll live, which school we’ll attend, what kind of person we’ll marry, and how many kids we’ll have. These images can inspire us to set bolder goals and guide us towards a path to achieve them. The danger of these plans is that they can give us tunnel vision, blinding us to alternative possibilities. We don’t know how time and circumstances will change what we want and even who we want to be, and locking our life GPS onto a single target can give us the right directions to the wrong destinations. [229]

  • When we dedicate ourselves to a plan and it isn’t going as we hoped, our first instinct is usually to rethink it. Instead, we tend to double down and sink more resources into the plan. This pattern is called escalation of commitment. [229]

  • Escalation of commitment happens because we’re rationalising creatures, constantly searching for self-justifications for our prior beliefs as a way to soothe our egos, shield our images and validate our past decisions. [229]

  • Identity Foreclosure — when we settle prematurely on a sense of self without enough due diligence and close our minds to alternative selves. [230]

  • Choosing a career isn’t like finding a soul mate. It’s possible that your ideal job hasn’t even been invented yet. Old industries are changing and new industries are emerging faster than ever before: it wasn’t that long ago that Google, Uber and Instagram didn’t exist. Your future self doesn’t exist right now, either, and your interests might change over time.[232]

  • I think it's better to lose the past two years of progress than to waste the next twenty [233]

  • Deciding to leave a current career path is often easier than identifying a new one. For navigating this challenge we can use a framework from professor Herminia Ibarra,

    • a first step is to entertain possible selves: identify some people you admire within or outside your field, and observe what they actually do at work day by day.

    • A second step is to develop hypotheses about how these paths might align with your own interests, skills and values.

    • A third step is to test out the different identities by running experiments: do informational interviews, job shadowing and sample projects to get a taste of the work. The goal is not to confirm a particular plan but to expand your repertoire of possible selves--which keeps you open to rethinking. [235]

  • A successful relationship requires regular rethinking. Sometimes being considerate means reconsidering something as simple as our habits. At other times being supportive means opening our minds to bigger life changes--moving to a different country, a different community, or a different job to support our partner's priorities. [236]

  • When we're willing to update our ideas of who our partners are, it can give them freedom to evolve and our relationships room to grow. Whether we do checkups with our partners, our parents, or our mentors, it's worth pausing once or twice a year to reflect on how our aspirations have changed. [237]

  • As we identify past images of our lives that are no longer relevant to our future, we can start to rethink our plans. That can set us up for happiness--as long as we're not too fixated on finding it. [237]

  • Placing a great deal of importance on happiness is a risk factor for depression, Why?

    • One possibility is that when we're searching for happiness, we get too busy evaluating life to actually experience it. Instead of savouring our moments of joy, we ruminate about why our lives aren't more joyful.

    • The second likely culprit is that we spend too much time striving for peak happiness, overlooking the fact that happiness depends more on the frequency of positive emotions than their intensity.

    • A third potential factor is that when we hunt for happiness, we overemphasize pleasure at the expense of purpose. The people who look for purpose in their work are more successful in pursuing their passions--and less likely to quit their jobs--than those who look for joy.

    • A fourth explanation is that Western conceptions of happiness as an individual state leave us feeling lonely. In more collectivistic Eastern cultures, the pattern is reversed: pursuing happiness predicts higher well-being because people prioritize social engagement over independent activities. [238]

  • As Ernest Hemingway wrote, "You can't get away from yourself by moving from one place to another" [239]

  • Our happiness often depends more on what we do than where we are. It's our actions--not our surroundings--that bring us meaning and belonging. [240]

  • Psychologists find that passions are often developed, not discovered. Interest doesn't always lead to effort and skill; sometimes it follows them. By investing in learning and problem-solving, we can develop our passions--and build the skills necessary to do the work and lead the lives we find worthwhile. [240]

  • Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way. [241]

  • Careers, relationships and communities are examples of what scientists call open systems--they're constantly in flux because they're not closed off from the environments around them. We know that open systems are governed by at least two key principles: there are always multiple paths to the same end (equifinality), and the same starting point can be a path to many different ends (multifinality). We should be careful to avoid getting too attached to a particular route or even a particular destination. There isn't one definition of success or one track to happiness. [241]

  • To adapt an analogy from E.L. Doctorow, writing out a plan for your life "is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." [242]

  • Our identities are open systems, and so are our lives. We don't have to stay tethered to old images of where we want to go or who we want to be. The simplest way to start rethinking our options is to questions what we do daily. [243]

  • It takes humility to reconsider our past commitments, doubt to question our present decisions, and curiosity to reimagine our future plans. What we discover along the way can free us from the shackles of our familiar surroundings and our former selves. Rethinking liberates us to do more than update our knowledge and opinions--it's a tool for leading a more fulfilling life. [243]


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