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Ch. 3: Think Again by Adam Grant

#177: Aug. - Oct. 2021 (Non-Fiction)
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Chris OConnor
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Ch. 3: Think Again by Adam Grant

Ch. 3: Think Again by Adam Grant

Please use this thread to discuss the above chapter.
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Mr. P
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Re: Ch. 3: Think Again by Adam Grant

Oh wow. What a twist in Ch 3...the Totalitarian ego and Lawful, a test subject in an extreme experiment. I won't spoil...but wow.
When you refuse to learn, you become a disease.
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Mr. P
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Re: Ch. 3: Think Again by Adam Grant

Hahaha. On page 86, Grant tells us about the time he had a scientific paper peer reviewed. The process is double blind. His rejection included a comment directing Grant to study the work of...Adam Grant.
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Robert Tulip
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Re: Ch. 3: Think Again by Adam Grant

Mr. P wrote:Oh wow. What a twist in Ch 3...the Totalitarian ego and Lawful, a test subject in an extreme experiment. I won't spoil...but wow.
Yes, this example is a beauty regarding the effects of being unable to revise our views. The psychology experiment was done at Harvard in the 1950s, before the days of ethics approval. It asked students to formulate their personal philosophy and then had a law student pose as a colleague, but with a brief to demolish the person's views in an insulting conversation to see how they would react.

In this case, what Grant finds interesting about this 'Lawful' character's personal views was the intense certainty he displayed about hostility to modern world politics. His level of conviction showed he was completely unable to imagine any of his personal opinions might be wrong, which Grant suggests is a dangerous trait.

I liked this chapter a lot. I will go through in detail with comments. Particularly appreciated the conversation with Daniel Kahneman, who seems to get a dopamine hit from being proved wrong.
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Robert Tulip
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Re: Ch. 3: Think Again by Adam Grant

In the section ‘The Dictator Policing Your Thoughts’, Grant blames the amygdala, or ‘lizard brain’, for our totalitarian impulses that prompt us to respond with defensive armour rather than reasoned engagement when we encounter challenges to our identity and core beliefs. This reflects the extensive modern psychological research that reveals how much human responses are driven by emotion more than by reason, by physiology and instinct rather than thinking. Rethinking is not just a matter of logic, it often involves arduous and difficult work to rewire our brain when long term habits provide a dopamine hit.

This leads to the conversation with Daniel Kahneman, who expresses unalloyed joy at how Grant’s comments led him to change his mind, as a way to be sure he had learnt something. Kahneman’s key is to refuse to let his beliefs become part of his identity. That seems to be an incredibly rare feat, since it seems our unexamined instinctive attitude is to totally identify with our opinions.

This all strongly reminds me of Buddhism, which teaches that detachment from desire and belief is the key to enlightenment and the end of suffering. Grant suggests it is useful to detach our opinions from our identity, and our present from our past.
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Re: Ch. 3: Think Again by Adam Grant

Can't believe i have almost finished this book (one chapter to go), but have been a total failure in commenting on it. I promise to do better, though I am goind to need t re-read several chapters. Sorry guys.
Love what you do, and do what you love. Don't listen to anyone else who tells you not to do it. -Ray Bradbury

Always listen to experts. They'll tell you what can't be done, and why. Then do it. -Robert A. Heinlein
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Re: Ch. 3: Think Again by Adam Grant

Cattleman wrote:Can't believe i have almost finished this book (one chapter to go), but have been a total failure in commenting on it. I promise to do better, though I am goind to need t re-read several chapters. Sorry guys.
Hey Cattleman, I know the feeling. Maybe you can just comment on my posts.

A forecaster who correctly predicted that Donald Trump would become President and that the Brexit referendum would lead to Britain leaving the EU was way outside the broad consensus view. Grant explores how such forecasters think, describing them as ‘passionately dispassionate’. That means a focus just on constantly revising opinions based on evidence rather than on what they would prefer to happen.

Jean-Pierre Buegoms is a military historian whose forecasting focus gave extra weight to factors that are hard to measure such as ability to manipulate the media. He also saw Trump’s emotional use of immigration as a key element. The theme Grant identifies here is confident humility to doubt your judgements and curiosity to find new information. Unlike for most people, good forecasters will update their predictions with each new piece of relevant data.

The famous line from George Costanza, ‘it’s not a lie if you believe it’, reflects how emotional intelligence needs to avoid internalising our feelings and desires as beliefs. This is one of the things people really object to about Donald Trump.

Another forecaster, Kjirste Morrell, describes the emotional pleasure of being proved wrong. But like most 2016 predictors she could not bring herself to predict a Trump victory, and instead became emotionally invested in her personal desire. Instead of detaching her opinion from her identity, she put tribe above truth, falling victim to desirability bias. Rather than proving yourself, the goal should be to improve yourself, even at the risk of ridicule.
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Re: Ch. 3: Think Again by Adam Grant

One problem, in the social sense, is that this type of dispassionate sifting of evidence isn't compatible with conviction--not really, in my opinion. If you see a conclusion as always provisional, you're not going to have that insistent certainty that causes others to follow you. When does refusal to commit to a truth come to seem like dithering?
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Re: Ch. 3: Think Again by Adam Grant

DWill wrote:One problem, in the social sense, is that this type of dispassionate sifting of evidence isn't compatible with conviction--not really, in my opinion. If you see a conclusion as always provisional, you're not going to have that insistent certainty that causes others to follow you. When does refusal to commit to a truth come to seem like dithering?
Exactly, and that dithering lack of conviction is the shortcoming of Grant’s presentation of the scientist as morally superior to the prosecutor, the politician and the preacher. The challenge of changing the world is to integrate the open critical spirit of science with the rhetorical tools of persuasion.
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Re: Ch. 3: Think Again by Adam Grant

Page 75 outs Lawful, the code name for one of the participants in the Harvard experiment that attacked people’s opinions. Lawful said he found the experience highly unpleasant. He went on to become a Professor of Mathematics and continued to display the total certainty expressed in the ideas he gave to this study. In 1967, his dissertation Boundary Functions won the Prize for Michigan's best mathematics dissertation of the year, and he went on to become an assistant professor at Berkeley before abruptly resigning. He had total contempt for modern technology, and wrote that there is no way to reform the system. Grant considers Lawful had no capacity to discover that he was wrong, and instead totally identified with his opinions.
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Re: Ch. 3: Think Again by Adam Grant

The difference between a harmless Luddite crank and Kaczynski is of course the lengths the latter went to defeat his moral enemy, the modern world. It's not that he was wrong to think as he did about technology. Amish people who reject a lot of our technology aren't wrong. They keep to themselves as Kaczynski could have.

The interesting and harder to judge instances are those like John Brown, who believed he was justified in killing pro-slavery settlers in Kansas and in starting a race war by raiding Harpers Ferry. Very few whites in his day thought he was a hero, even those who abominated slavery. But now I think the view of John Brown is that a nation that is so morally bankrupt as to allow slavery to persist, needs a fanatic to bring the issue to a crisis point, allowing good and evil to slug it out.
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Re: Ch. 3: Think Again by Adam Grant

Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:One problem, in the social sense, is that this type of dispassionate sifting of evidence isn't compatible with conviction--not really, in my opinion. If you see a conclusion as always provisional, you're not going to have that insistent certainty that causes others to follow you. When does refusal to commit to a truth come to seem like dithering?

Exactly, and that dithering lack of conviction is the shortcoming of Grant’s presentation of the scientist as morally superior to the prosecutor, the politician and the preacher. The challenge of changing the world is to integrate the open critical spirit of science with the rhetorical tools of persuasion.
Fascinating questions raised here. Worthy of Kahneman, I would say. I have always thought that the strongest "proof" for a scientific hypothesis was if it led to the asking of questions that wouldn't have been asked otherwise, followed then by investigations which confirm it. That is a two-step process, obviously, but it's hard to think of a field of human endeavor outside science that can claim a similar confirmation of intuitive insight. Maybe the superiority of government by consent, maybe the need for separation of governmental powers, and maybe the power of freeing markets. And, oh yes, the ability to rescue the modern industrial economy from a depression with free spending by the government.

Referencing some of the discussion that followed, I think it is possible to treat a "big" belief as provisional without losing the ability to commit to it. One regards it as provisional as long as the evidence doesn't decisively refute it. If one hears a viable alternative one should consider it, but real life is full of alternative notions like "that hobby is too expensive" and "giving Hitler the concessions he claims are needed for justice will take the wind out of his sails," which we can treat as discouragement rather than as warnings.

I rather lean toward DWill's version, that character involves a certain ability to commit to a worldview, but I combine it with Robert's challenge to demonstrate persuasiveness without abandoning the ability to critique our own notions. Of course what this often looks like is the process of moving the goalposts, or otherwise revising the version of reality we are committed to, to avoid being undermined by criticism. Our recent President 45 was a master at shifting rhetoric in response to inconvenient information. The internal process of self-questioning is crucial to integrity, but must be engaged at the level of weighing truth and kept private, rather than being indulged during the messy process of explaining why one's views make sense.
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