Are you interested in finding out what you don’t know? According to organisational psychologist and Wharton professor Adam Grant, you should be.
When presented with someone else’s argument, we are very good at spotting weaknesses. But the positions we are blind about, are our own, says Grant. There is nothing like our inner dictator to take charge when our own opinions are threatened. When that happens, we can feed an overconfidence cycle that makes us blind to what we do not want to see, and gives us more proof of what we do want to see.
Rethinking is the process of doubting what you know, being curious about what you don’t know, and updating your thinking based on new evidence. Changing your mind is a sign of intellectual integrity. It opens up our thinking to new information that can strengthen our own positions.
The ability to rethink your point of view is important. But it does not stop there. Signaling your willingness to do so is critical. That is because it shows other people that you respond to evidence, which in turn makes others more responsive, and more open-minded, to you. In effect, we are talking about providing license and willingness for other people to reconsider their positions, just as we would do ours.
Political scientist Phil Tetlock outlined three key mindsets that are useful to us in analysing our own approaches and responses:
Preacher: dogmatically promotes ideas and defends them from attack – sees changing their mind is a sign of moral weakness
Prosecutor: attacks the ideas of others to ‘win’ the argument – sees being persuaded as a defeat
Politician: tries to win the support of others, seeks approval and agreement – in place of personal conviction, changes opinion opportunistically
In his book “Think Again”, Grant argues that the professional worldview that we need most in our world so full of flux is the Scientist – where we value rethinking and search for ‘truths’ through testing hypotheses, running experiments, and forming new insights.
Intelligence is often seen as ‘thinking and learning’. But in a world that rapidly changes, it might be more important for us to be ‘rethinking and unlearning’.
Let go of what no longer serves you well. And try to hold flexibility, curiosity and humility in high regard.
There’s a power in knowing what you don’t know.
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