Ty Bair is a junior, studying Politics & International Relations, as well as Philosophy

(This post is the next in the segment Readings in Reconciliation and focuses on Adam Grant’s Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know.  Click to learn more about the segment and the series, From the Field.)

The main point of Grant’s book, unsurprisingly, is getting us to ‘think again’. “The goal is not to be wrong more often. It’s to recognize that we’re all wrong more often than we’d like to admit.” (83) He wants to challenge us to critically reevaluate our ideas, our beliefs, and even our ways about being in the world. In undertaking this monumental task, I believe that Grant achieves in making the case for self-reflection, but struggles to explain the potential pitfalls, should one go about doing so.

One major point that I took from Grant’s writing was that no matter how sure you are of something, no matter how big or small, and no matter how important it is, we can always benefit from a second look at it. Grant convinced me of that old adage over the course of the read that if something is worth doing it is worth doing right, and rethinking is the way to go about that. He showed me that “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is not a valid excuse using the Challenger disaster to exemplify how overlooking things and assuming everything is safe just because it had worked in the past was simply not enough. He also showed me that you can never be thorough enough because you might have been mistaken the first time as you checked in his example of Luca Parmitano and his spacesuit wardrobe malfunction (293), where Luca was in grave danger because NASA only checked what the perceived problem was and he almost drowned in space because of it.

Though I agree with most of his major points, a major issue I had was that he neglected to elaborate on a lot of them, leaving the reader to deal with a lot of the questions that stem from his advice on their own. For instance, when Grant talks about being willing to switch career paths, in his example, his cousin is having serious doubts about his life choices, but decides to stick with them even though he was not entirely sure he wanted to and Grant spins this tale as a cautionary one, but there was no guarantee that if his cousin had decided to chase his more unstable dreams that he would have landed on his feet at all. And when he talks about Daryl Davis and the white supremacists (202), he seems to be endorsing trying to talk to people that hate you. In other words, that changing minds can even require risk of personal harm, but what if you’re in a situation like that? Are you obligated to follow through, or would Grant say err on the side of caution? Grant shies away from confronting the fallout that could come if you follow his advice to the tee, and I think that can be a problem because he is not clear enough about when and where this attitude is appropriate and when rethinking or changing could be harmful in the long run. What if you make a mistake the second time around?

However, the main basis of his argument I think is very sound. In particular, I think his guidance for how to communicate better with people by coming from an area of understanding is extremely useful. He talks about how to have a productive conversation (258) by keeping yourself active and receptive throughout, and he even delves into how high-intensity topics can be approached in such a way as to not explode by considering the “range of perspectives on a topic” (Grant, 236). I think that the book in its totality has really given me an emboldened sense of importance regarding the time I spend evaluating my values, attitudes, and belief structures. These skills in particular are very useful for approaching genuine discussion about hot button issues to better get a grasp of the full situation. If I want to be a conscientious political actor I should be able to affirm my positions on any number of topics and to do so properly simply must include me revisiting them time and time again.


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