Think Again


We hesitate at the idea of rethinking. Part of the problem is cognitive laziness. The other part of the problem is when we rethink, it makes the world more unpredictable. It requires us to admit that what was once right may now be wrong and reconsidering something that we believe in deeply threaten our identities, making us feel like losing a part of ourselves.

As we think and talk, we often slip into mindset of three different professions:

But the ideal mode of thinking is like a scientist - the mind being open to rethink and question the assumptions and beliefs in search of truth as we sought new evidence and experiment with new ideas instead of outright rejection or acceptance. It requires being actively open-minded, searching for reasons why we might be wrong and revising our views based on what we learn.

Rethinking as a part of Life

Impostor syndrome is having low confidence but high competence. In a study, people with impostor syndrome tend to perform better than others as they are more open to changing their beliefs. With impostor syndrom adding doubt to their abilities, the obstacle allows them to learn more and motivates them to work smarter (though a chronic feeling of being impostor breeds misery, crush motivation and hold them back from pursuing their ambitions.) The opposite of impostor syndrome is armchair quaterback syndrome. Armchair quaterback syndrome is where the football fans claim to know more than the coach. They have high confidence but low competence and they are less open to rethinking and filling the gaps in their knowledge.

Making a long list of areas where we're ignorant helps to recognize our shortcomings and open doors to doubt. The doubt helps us to search for new answers and to improve our knowledge. By acknowledging what we don't know, we can pay more attention to strong evidence and reading materials that contradicts our opinions to build better knowledge.

Always question your assumptions, be open to new evidence and to update your beliefs if the new evidence proves beneficial. When you form an opinion, ask yourself what should happen to prove it false and what conditions should be satisfied for it to hold true. Then, keep track of your views so you can see when you were right, when you were wrong and how your thinking has evolved.

Setup a challenge network. A challenge network helps you to challenge your existing beliefs and opinion and allows you to rethink them by bringing in new perspectives. Agreeable people make for a great support but they don't disagree nor challenge our beliefs. The ideal members of challenge network are disagreeable people. The are fearless about questioning the way things have always been done. With a challenge network, you can debate and broaden your thinking.

When people say you are wrong, some people take fight-or-flight response, while some are open to update their ideas and their perspectives. By discovering we are wrong, we are being less-wrong. To accept being wrong, we should not be attached to our ideas.

Interpersonal Rethinking

When we are trying to open other people's mind, we can accomplish more by listening than by talking. Expert negotiatiors listened more and shared their feelings more often. In negotiations, they worked towards finding a common ground first and then starting from there to support their case. They presented fewer reasons (one or two strong points) to support their case as too many arguments dilute the power of each and every one. They opened others mind for thinking by asking more questions on the holden assumptions.

We assume that there are only two views in an issue but reality is more complicated. In an experiment, participants were asked to discuss on divisive topics, like abortion laws in pairs and asked to come up with a joint agreement. Before the experiment, one set of participants read an article on gun control where the problem was presented as a bipartisan problem and the other set read an article were the problem was presented with multiple views. The pair who read the article with multiple views came into a joint conclusion 100 percent of the time but the participants who read the bipartisan version of the article came into a joint agreement only 46 percent of the times. Adding a dose of complexity can disrupt overconfidence cycles and spur rethinking cycles.

When people ignore advice, it isn't always because they disagree with it. Sometimes they're resisting the sense of pressure and feeling that someone else is controlling their life.

Asking people to vaccinate their children does not work. Here comes the vaccine whisperers. They ask questions to mothers who did not vaccinate their children. The whisperes listened to their story with curiosity and humility, without any hidden motive. At the end of the conversation, they affirmed to the parents that taking a vaccine is their choice. When left with this, the parents vaccinated their children. This is motivational interviewing at work.

In motivational interviewing, you start with an attitude of humility and curiosity. You ask genuine open-ended questions, engage in reflective listening and affirming the person's desire and ability to change. The key here is listening your way through the desire and ability to change of the other. People can sense easily when the questions are tactical and when they sense it, they will put up their defense shields.

A black man persuaded white supremacists to quit the Ku Klax Klan. How did he do it? He asked the clan members questions, inducing conterfactual thinking to debunk the stereotypes they held against black people. In counterfacutal thinking, making people think the other scenario, like, how would their life have been different be if they have been in poverty or born as a Asian can help people to open their minds.

People have prejudices, animosity, stereotypes towards other groups. Once we have formed stereotypes, for both mental and social reasons it's hard to undo them. Socially, we tend to interact with people who share them, which makes them even more extreme.

For example, Red Sox fans hate Yankees as they grow up in a family of Red Sox fans. Reflecting on the arbitary reasons of animosity, points where we (the groups) disagree on trivalities can help in opening our mind and in activating the rethinking cycle.

If you find yourself saying ______ is always good or ______ is always bad, you may be a member of idea cult. People have binary bias - it helps our brain to simplify things as black and white. But the world is more complex. Having a dose of complexity can reduce these overconfidence.

Knowledge evolves. The worst think about best practices is that we preache its virtues, it gets frozen in time and we stop questioning its vices. We should have a constant search for better practices.

Ron was a public-elementary-school teacher in rural Massachusetts. He begins a school year by presenting students with problems to work through in individual phases. The approach works like this: first, kids work individually, update their ideas in small groups, present their thoughts to the class and arrive at final solution together. This way, children identified problems in their work, developed hypothesis and designed their own experiments to test their knowledge. When children are confused, Ron embraces that confusion with curiosity and interest, inculcating rethinking in children.

In a study, though students mentioned they liked lecture more than active learning, it is in the active learning session they learnt more. Because active learning gives the opportunity to question the information and participate in rethinking, helping in developing tools needed in life.

Teams which had psychological safety made fewer errors. Psychological safety is about fostering a climate of respect, trust and openness in which people can raise concerns and suggestions without fear of reprisal. It is not about relaxing standard, being nice and agreeable, or giving unconditional praise.

How do you know? - a powerful question expressing doubt and curiosity with a confident humility, allowing us to rethink situations at work places. Ask it often at critical junctures.

Career checkup question: to activate rethinking cycles in your career, ask yourself Have I reached a learning plateau in my role or workplace, and is it time to consider a pivot?

From an early age, we have visions - this is what I want to do in future but having a vision blind us to alternative possibilities. Scheduling rethinking dates twice a year in the calendar helps us to rethink our choices periodically.