Thinking about Adam Grant's Think Again
If knowledge is power, knowing what we don’t know is wisdom. -Adam Grant
On a recent episode of her Dare to Lead podcast, Brené Brown asked Adam Grant what inspired him to write Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know. He responded with a story about a group of CEOs considering remote work options for their employees—in 2018, before the pandemic. After sharing his own study data showing remote call center workers were 13.5% more productive, along with other supporting evidence, Grant suggested the CEOs try a remote Friday experiment to see what happens. And they all said no.
Head-scratcher, right? But in early 2020, even our own Lauren Dixon—along with business leaders around the world—thought remote work’s risks dwarfed its benefits. They assumed it would erode productivity and crush culture. And then a few months into the pandemic, most of them, including Lauren, “did a 180,” as she says. They rethought their long-held beliefs about remote work after seeing their teams stay productive while working from home.
What other thoughts should we reconsider? I used to think country music was all about big trucks, cold beer and broken hearts. But when my son started listening to country music, I researched and reconsidered my superficial opinions. And have since come to love country music’s poignant, twang-ful storytelling—I even took a girls’ trip to Nashville just before the pandemic.
When it comes to thinking again, we’re living in a paradox. The internet puts a world of diverse perspectives at our fingertips. But its algorithms reinforce our echo chambers and confirmation biases. So we have to be intentional and proactive about unlocking our thought bubbles. Maybe even nudged. Because rigid thinking is kryptonite to progress.
To move forward, we need to rethink the thought-anchors in our fluid landscape. And our collective emergence from the pandemic is a great opportunity to reset and rethink. So here are three concepts I think need rethinking.
It’s a digital-first world
In marketing and advertising, we talk about our audiences being “digital first” and “mobile first” as if the concepts are universal, done deals. At first thought, it makes sense. Everyone is online and on their phones. All the time. And that thinking guides the content, format, and ultimately placement and distribution of our communications.
But the COVID vaccine rollout spotlighted an alternate, offline, landline reality. Some of my family members don’t have a computer, internet or smartphone. The phone book, local newspapers, TV and landline are their connections to the world. They’re increasingly frustrated by the hoops they have to go through to get information. They often feel left out. But never as much as when they wanted to sign up for the vaccine.
Because it requires tech savvy and connectivity to find and register for a vaccine appointment. So through United Way’s Vaccine Volunteer Force, I helped out at rec centers and libraries, making vaccine appointments for people in person and over the phone. When I asked if they wanted an email confirmation, the majority said they didn’t have an email address. Something to think about when planning nurture streams and promotions.
I also volunteer at pop-up vaccine clinics that aren’t listed on the state-run websites. At one, I asked the nurse manager how she got the word out about appointments. She said she called her most vulnerable patients, explained the benefits of the vaccine, and asked them to tell their family and friends who were eligible. She quickly started getting calls from people who said, “My sister’s friend’s cousin told me about it” and before long had waiting lists for appointments.
Not a single ad, piece of content or email. Just a lot of knowing your audience, personalizing your message, putting a face on your brand, educating to build trust, and encouraging word of mouth and brand ambassadors. Customer first vs. digital first and mobile first.
Virtual meetings stifle creativity
The longtime thinking in the ad world has been that in-person huddles are necessary for successful brainstorming. But COVID challenged that thinking. We’ve seen video meetings supercharge group creativity. Not just by eliminating the physical walls of a conference room, but by removing the psychological, systemic and emotional barriers to inclusion, belonging and free expression of ideas.
Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index reports that 52% of people surveyed say they feel more valued and included when working remotely. Perhaps because video meetings reduce implicit and explicit subtleties that can make people feel left out and inhibit speaking up and sharing. You know, those send-you-right-back-to-middle-school, angst-making exclusive side conversations and inside jokes, and the pressure to conform and agree.
At the same time, virtual collaboration tools like online whiteboards and murals, chat boxes, sticky notes and screen sharing give us visual, interactive ways of communicating that can unleash different types of thinking and new perspectives. And free us to express ourselves in a variety of ways—even anonymously, which could give confidence to people who are otherwise reluctant to speak up. Or those of us who just have crazy ideas.
In the first three months of lockdown alone, Microsoft saw more people sharing more ideas in Teams as in-meeting chat messages rose more than 10x.
Of course, the ease of logging on from anywhere opens the door to more people from more places, which brings in fresh thinking and a variety of perspectives—critical for developing meaningful, relevant ideas. And you can record video meetings with a convenient click. Handy, because sometimes we overlook or don’t recognize glimmers of brilliance in the moment but can follow up on them later.
Avoid conflict in the workplace
With depressing levels of division in our country, it might seem counterintuitive to invite conflict in the workplace. But productive conflict might be just what we need to solve big problems and build strong relationships.
Susan David, Ph.D., author of Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change and Thrive in Work and Life, eloquently says, “Collaboration does an intimate dance with conflict. So you don’t get to have real collaboration or innovation in your organization unless you’re willing to go to the difficult emotions of discomfort.”
Problem is, many of us avoid conflict. It’s scary. It makes us uncomfortable. And it feels rude and disrespectful. So we bury our perspectives. Or as David says, “people put on a smile and surface act and say ’Your strategy is great,’ even though they feel like upending the table.’” This inhibition is soul-crushing and idea-killing.
Ian Leslie, a former advertising executive and author of “Conflicted: Why Arguments Are Tearing Us Apart and How They Can Bring Us Together,” agrees. He says avoiding disagreements is far worse than agreeing with everyone. Because it stifles creative problem-solving. “Instead of putting our differences aside, let’s put them to work,” he says. I agree.
Differences of opinion force us think again—to look at issues from different angles and consider alternative approaches. Perhaps ones we wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. Questioning each other’s ideas can spotlight risks or flawed thinking. The kind of creative friction and diversity of thought that deepen empathy and spark insights.
Adam Grant illustrates this with a story about Steve Jobs. The co-founder of Apple was a strong, persuasive, stubborn leader. One you’d expect to surround himself with “yes men.” But actually, his teams weren’t afraid to question him. Good thing.
Because Jobs clung to a “never-phone” strategy for years: Apple was never ever, ever going enter the phone market. But his team persisted. They kept challenging his thinking. And surprise! They eventually got him to change his mind. Moral of the story: There would be no iPhone if people had avoided conflict in their meetings with Jobs.
Along with brilliant creative breakthroughs, when people disagree in a respectful, productive way, they have to work together to come up with an agreeable solution: Two intellects joining forces to invent something better. Going through the uncomfortable process, working through it and resolving the conflict can bring people closer, deepening their understanding of each other.
So rather than mask our disagreement, let’s embrace healthy conflict. It’s proof of our passion, right? Because if we didn’t care about outcomes, we’d be complacent. But when we’re driven to ever-better, together, we put on our big-kid pants and speak up for our shared commitment to the greater good.
Robin Merrill Lorenzo
Robin Merrill Lorenzo is DS+CO’s content supervisor who creates copy and messaging with a deep understanding of her clients’ brands.