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1 January 2023

Enabling rethinking

Filed under: books, change, communications, psychology, retrospection — Tags: , — David Wood @ 10:45 pm

At the start of a new year, it’s customary for people to reflect on their life trajectories. Are the visions, attitudes, activities, and alliances, that have brought us to the end of one year, the best set to keep following in the next year?

So, new years are known for retrospectives – reviews of our past successes and disappointments – and for new resolutions – initiatives to change parts of our lifestyles.

My view, however, is that the pace of change in society is so rapid nowadays that we can no longer keep our rethinking – our retrospectives and our new resolutions – to something that just happens occasionally – perhaps once a year.

Moreover, the wide scope of change in society demands a rethinking that is not only more frequent, but also more searching, more radical, and more effective.

Accordingly, perhaps the single most important skill today is the ability to unlearn and relearn, quickly and successfully.

That’s why I put “Learning how to learn” as the very first area (out of 24) in the Vital Syllabus project which I oversee.

It’s also why my attention was drawn to the book Think Again by organizational psychologist Adam Grant.

I was intrigued by the subtitle “The power of knowing what you don’t know”, and by the recommendation on the book cover, “Guaranteed to make you rethink your opinions and your most important decisions”.

I downloaded the audio version of the book to my phone a couple of weeks ago, and started listening to it. I finished it earlier today. It was a great choice to be my last listen of the year.

It’s narrated by the author himself. I see from his biography that he “has been Wharton’s top-rated professor for seven straight years”. After listening to his narration, I’m not at all surprised.

The chapters all involve engaging narratives with several layers of meaning which become clearer as the book progresses. Since I’m widely read myself, the narratives several times touched on material where I had some prior familiarity:

  • Learning from “superforecasters”
  • Learning from the Wright brothers (aviation pioneers)
  • Learning from expert negotiators
  • Learning from debating champions
  • Learning from the tragedies at NASA
  • Learning from the Dunning-Kruger analysis of overconfidence.

But in each case, the author drew attention to extra implications that I had not appreciated before. I’m considerably wiser as a result.

My own specific takeaways from the book are a number of new habits I want to include in my personal reflections and interactions. I see the book as enabling better rethinking:

  • Individually – when I contemplate my own knowledge, skills, and, yes, limitations and doubts
  • Interpersonally – when I bump up against other people with different beliefs, opinions, and loyalties
  • Within communities – so that an organisation is better able to avoid groupthink and more able to successfully pivot when needed
  • Transcending polarisation – by highlighting the complexities of real-world decisions, by encouraging “dancing” rather than conflicts, by expressing a wider range of emotions, and much more.

Because polarisation is such a challenging issue in today’s world, especially in politics (see my comments in this previous book review), the methods Grant highlights are particularly timely.

I’ve already found a couple of videos online that cover some of these points, and added them into various pages of the Vital Syllabus (here and here, so far). I’m sure there’s a lot more material out there, which should likewise be included.

If you have any additional suggestions, don’t hesitate to let me know!

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