Author: Adam Grant
Book Review by: Mitch Myre
The accelerating pace of change means that we need to question our beliefs more than ever before.
o When it comes to our beliefs, we typically protect them by promoting them, trying to prove others wrong or convincing others to believe what we believe. Instead, Grant says we should re-think our views by stepping into a scientist frame of mind – a mode in which we search for the truth by running experiments to test, hypothesize and discover knowledge.
o We tend to embrace two biases in our culture. Confirmation bias is seeing what we expect to see (i.e. we only look for the evidence around us that will confirm our current belief). And Desirability bias is seeing what we want to see. Both biases can prevent us from applying our own unique intelligence.
o There are benefits to doubting ourselves! Imposter fears/syndrome is a common concept these days. Instead of ignoring imposter thoughts, we should embrace them (and the fears they bring) because they can help motivate us to work harder and smarter, make us better learners, and lead us to look for gaps and flaws in our knowledge.
There can be joy in being wrong.
o Making mistakes is essential for progress. If we can’t find occasional joy in being wrong, it’s going to be very hard to get anything right.
o Detaching ourselves – both from our past and our opinions – will open the door to rethinking and finding the joy in being wrong. Detaching present self from past self can be painful but very healthy especially if we can tell a coherent story of how you got form past to present you. When you feel like you are in the process of shifting who you are, it’s easier to step away form the beliefs you once held.
We can rarely motivate someone else to change. We’re better off helping them find their own motivation to change.
o Asking questions can help with self-persuasion yet open-end questions plus an attitude of humility and curiosity will take people a step further to self-discovery. People will naturally avoid advice not necessarily because they disagree with it but because they sense that someone else is attempting to control their decision.
o Active and deep listening is required. It starts with showing more interest in other peoples’ interest than examining their perspectives or proving our own. Experiments have shown that interacting with an empathetic, nonjudgmental, and attentive listener made people feel more at ease and less defensive.
o Providing an environment of trust and openness PLUS accountability creates a learning zone where people feel free to experiment and poke holes in their thoughts and beliefs.
Happiness is a byproduct of mastery and meaning.
o We often get too busy hunting for happiness thereby not actually experiencing it or overlooking the fact that happiness depends more on the frequency of positive emotions than their intensity.
o Meaning is healthier than happiness. The people who look for purpose in their lives tend to be more successful in pursuing their passions than the people who look for joy.
o There’s an evolution that takes place within our self-esteem: 1) I’m not important, 2) I am important and 3) I want to contribute to something important. The sooner we get to a place of contributing, the more happiness we experience. Therefore happiness is not so much a goal as it is a byproduct.
Reflection and Application to My Coaching:
Although Grant is mostly referring to people’s external beliefs, I believe that his work applies to our internal beliefs. When it comes to ourselves (and our coaching clients) we typically have a firm set of beliefs about who we are and how we show up in the world, and we use confirmation bias to cement those beliefs. Inviting clients to explore their values, beliefs and even fears can help them create new perspectives.
Grant wonderfully identifies meaningful life stages (my words) that help us gain our and our client’s current orientation. The attachment concept feels very much like a model to use in coaching including the imagery he uses (multiple overlapping circles that help the reader understand how much they see their past self matching up with their current self). Using that as a model with thoughtful questions could provide understanding and new perspective for a client. The self-esteem evolution (ending in the desire to contribute) is very much like the meaningful life model. Again, this could be used as its own model to spark understanding and a discussion around where the client wants to move to.
There are consistent themes across the entirety of Grant’s masterpiece that take us to a place that is reminiscent of coaching. He essentially makes the case for coaching (or at least being more coach-like) in work and relationships. The studies and data he shows help reinforce that listening, staying curious and avoiding advice are what will free others up to step outside of their beliefs and view them objectively through a different lens. He also reinforces that people flourish most not only when they are in environments of trust but also where there’s accountability – not to an outcome but to a process. This is the essence of coaching…a relationship that is built on trust and also accountability around the process of doing the work verses a specified outcome.
“Complex problems like pandemics, climate change and political polarization call on us to stay mentally flexible. In the face of any number of unknown and evolving threats, humility, doubt, and curiosity are vital to discovery. Bold, persistent experimentation might be our best tool for rethinking.”