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Adam Grant: How to master the leadership skill of rethinking

Summary of business book Think Again by bestseller author Adam Grant


Adam Grant wishes more leaders would think like scientists.

Ahead of his highly-anticipated masterclass The Critical Art of Rethinking, we look at Grant's latest bestseller Think Again.

In Think Again, the Originals author explains how scientists:

·       Are constantly aware of the limits of their understanding.

·       Doubt what they know.

·       Are curious about what they don’t know.

·       Update their views based on new data.

Grant says in rapidly changing times, it's vital business leaders learn to do the same.

It's the skill of rethinking and a key component of good leadership in 2021.

Successful start-ups from scientific thinking

It's hard not to love what we create.

Scientists fight against the human “desirability bias” (where we see what we want to see) and “confirmation bias” (seeing what we expect to see). 

In Think Again, Grant tells of a European experiment where start-up entrepreneurs were broken into two groups.

One group were taught to use scientific thinking. The control group were given business advice only.

In the scientific-thinking group:

·       Their strategy was a theory.

·       They interviewed customers to help develop hypotheses.

·       Their minimum viable products and prototypes were experiments to test hypotheses.

This group pivoted twice as often as the control group, who stayed wedded to their original strategies and products.

And, after a year, the “rethinking” entrepreneurs brought in 40x the revenue of the control group!

Learning to disagree with ourselves

Rethinking isn’t just disagreeing with others; it’s learning to disagree with ourselves.

It means being actively open-minded. It requires searching for reasons why we might be wrong.

Otherwise, we fall into:

·       Preacher mode: Changing our mind is a mark of moral weakness.

·       Prosecutor mode: Allowing ourselves to be persuaded differently is admitting defeat.

·       Politician mode: We flip-flop in response to carrots and sticks.


Adam Grant - event overview banner

Image: I rethink, therefore I am (more successful) - Adam Grant wants us to learn to rethink.

Imposter syndrome is no bad thing

So, where do we start?

Adam Grant says it starts with intellectual humility – knowing what we don’t know.

 (Even imposter syndrome might be beneficial, as confidence can make us complacent.)

Then, it’s about detachment, separating your opinions from your identity, and your past self from your current self.

Finally, it’s learning to be okay with conflict. It’s surrounding yourself with boat-rockers, not bootlickers, says Grant.

Helping others to rethink

You can view arguments as a war, or you can view them as a dance.

It’s a dance of self-persuasion, says Grant.  

“We can rarely motivate someone else to change. We’re better off helping them find their own motivation to change.”

One way to do this is by “motivational interviewing”:

·       Start with an attitude of humility and curiosity.

·       Ask open-ended questions and listen to their answers.

·       Be genuinely eager to find out more.

·       Affirm the person’s desire and ability to change.

“When people ignore advice, it isn’t always because they disagree with it,” Adam Grant says, “Sometimes they’re resisting the sense of pressure and the feeling that someone else is controlling their decision.”

He counsels us to talk to people to gain insight into the nuances of their views.

Learning cultures create rethinking cultures

Adam Grant says that in learning cultures, the norm is for people:

·     To know what they don’t know;

·     Doubt their existing practices;

·     Stay curious about new routines to try out.

He says evidence shows that in learning cultures, organisations innovate more and make fewer mistakes.

Feeling safe at work (psychological safety) and being allowed to experiment at work (process accountability) are both needed to create a learning zone.

·       Psychological safety erases the fear of challenging authority;

·       Process accountability leads people to think again about the best practices in their workplace.

“A good process is grounded in deep thinking and rethinking, enabling people to form and express independent opinions.”


When it comes to rethinking, “grit” may have a dark side.

When we dedicate ourselves to a plan, and it isn’t going as hoped, our first instinct isn’t usually to rethink it.

It’s to demonstrate “grit”; to double down and sink more resources in the plan.

Whether a career, a product launch, or a 3-year strategy, plans too easily become part of our identity.

So, try these 3 steps to think more like a scientist:

·       Entertain possible selves – not just your one identity.

·       Develop hypotheses about how these paths might align with your interests, skills, and values.

·       Run experiments, expand your repertoire of possible selves, and keep open to rethinking.

“The simplest way to start rethinking our options is to question what we do daily.”

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