Adam Grant’s “Think Again” Teaches Us to Stay Curious – and Ask (a lot) of Questions!

By Colleen Martin 

Recently, I dove into the NYT’s Bestseller, “Think Again” by Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist and bestselling author who explores the science of motivation, generosity, original thinking, and rethinking. A Philly celebrity in his own right, Grant has been the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton business school top-rated professor for seven straight years and is also the host of WorkLife, a chart-topping TED original podcast. 

In “Think Again,” Grant discusses how things might improve in our work and personal lives if we keep an open mind. There are three key tools we cling to, says Grant, and those are evenly distributed between our assumptions, habits, and instincts, leaving out the most valuable, ‘having an open mind.’ Success rests in the power of knowing what we don’t know, says Grant, and releasing ourselves from our tunnel vision.

This rings 1000 percent true for me. One of my favorite activities as an agency is holding a company-wide brainstorming session. We pull together our designers, web developers, digital marketers, and the media relations team, get out of our silos, and put our heads together to develop a new product or company name. Undoubtedly, the best ideas and rethinking comes out of those meetings. 


Bunking Our Assumptions

It is too easy to fall victim to our comfort zones and stick to what has “always worked.” Grant found that the higher a person’s IQ score, the more likely they are to fall for stereotypes because those with a higher IQ are faster at recognizing patterns. But those who are intellectually curious and open to new ideas says Grant, are often more successful. A recent study from UC Berkeley determined that emotional intelligence was four times better at predicting a person’s success than measuring IQ – and on average, those who have higher emotional intelligence earn $29,000 more than people who have low emotional intelligence.

In comparison, those who score lower on emotional intelligence (EQ) tests are more likely to overestimate their skills and dismiss their EQ scores as inaccurate or irrelevant. 

Grant encourages us to have confident humility, the concept of being secure enough in our expertise and strengths to admit our ignorance and weaknesses. Grant says confidence and humility are often seen as opposites, but when we reflect on the leaders we admire most, chances are that they embody both of these qualities in tandem.

Not only does this open our minds to rethinking, but it also improves the quality of our rethinking. In rigorous studies of leadership effectiveness in the U.S., the most productive and innovative teams aren’t run by leaders who are simply confident or humble; the best teams score high in both confidence and humility – because they are keenly aware of their weaknesses.


How does this apply to the world of PR and marketing?

When we have the confidence to acknowledge what we don’t know, we pay more attention to how strong the evidence is and spend more time reading material that contradicts our opinions. Contrary to what most of us do daily, Grant pushes us to think like scientists – to look for where we might be wrong.


Rethinking Is a Skillset, But Also a Mindset

Grant explains and defines the various modes we fall into on autopilot that can blind us to the best ideas, strategies, and insights.

  • Preacher Mode – We go into preacher mode when our sacred beliefs are in jeopardy; we deliver sermons to protect and promote our ideas.
  • Prosecutor Mode – We enter prosecutor mode when we recognize flaws in other people’s reasoning; we marshal arguments to prove them wrong and win our case.
  • Politician Mode – We shift into politician mode when we’re seeking to win over an audience; we campaign and lobby for the approval of our constituents (teammates/customers/clients)

Says Grant, “We get so caught up in “preaching we are right,” “prosecuting others who are wrong,” and “politicking for support that we forget to rethink our views.

The solution – and the best way for us as PR and marketing professionals, is to think like a scientist! 

  1. Ask a question
  2. Perform research
  3. Create a hypothesis
  4. Test your hypothesis
  5. Make an observation
  6. Analyze results to draw a conclusion
  7. Rinse, repeat!

Scientific thinking, says Grant, favors humility over pride, doubt over certainty, and curiosity over closure. As we question our current understanding of things, we become more curious about what information we are missing. This method of thinking pushes even the most confident among us to pause, take a breath, and “rethink” our approach. When you question your knowledge and strategies, says Grant, you become motivated to seek new insights, which can broaden and deepen your learning – and make us even better thinkers for our clients.