Adam Grant: On the Importance of Second Opinions

From a post on by Adam Grant headlined “I Rethink, Therefore I Am: On the Importance of Second Opinions”:

With advances in access to information and technology, knowledge isn’t just increasing. It’s increasing at an increasing rate. In 2011, you consumed about five times as much information per day as you would have just a quarter-century earlier. . . .The accelerating pace of change means that we need to question our beliefs more readily than ever before.

This is not an easy task. As we sit with our beliefs, they tend to become more extreme and more entrenched. . . .We’re swift to recognize when other people need to think again. We question the judgment of experts whenever we seek out a second opinion on a medical diagnosis. Unfortunately, when it comes to our own knowledge and opinions, we often favor feeling right over being right. In everyday life, we make many diagnoses of our own, ranging from whom we hire to whom we marry. We need to develop the habit of forming our own second opinions. . . .

If you’re a scientist by trade, rethinking is fundamental to your profession. You’re paid to be constantly aware of the limits of your understanding. You’re expected to doubt what you know, be curious about what you don’t know, and update your views based on new data. In the past century alone, the application of scientific principles has led to dramatic progress. Biological scientists discovered penicillin. Rocket scientists sent us to the moon. Computer scientists built the internet.

But being a scientist is not just a profession. It’s a frame of mind—a mode of thinking that differs from preaching, prosecuting, and politicking. We move into scientist mode when we’re searching for the truth: we run experiments to test hypotheses and discover knowledge. Scientific tools aren’t reserved for people with white coats and beakers, and using them doesn’t require toiling away for years with a microscope and a petri dish. Hypotheses have as much of a place in our lives as they do in the lab. Experiments can inform our daily decisions. That makes me wonder: is it possible to train people in other fields to think more like scientists, and if so, do they end up making smarter choices? . . .

Just as you don’t have to be a professional scientist to reason like one, being a professional scientist doesn’t guarantee that someone will use the tools of their training. Scientists morph into preachers when they present their pet theories as gospel and treat thoughtful critiques as sacrilege. They veer into politician terrain when they allow their views to be swayed by popularity rather than accuracy. They enter prosecutor mode when they’re hell‑bent on debunking and discrediting rather than discovering. . . .

Excerpted from Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant. Used with the permission of the publisher, Viking, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright 2021 by Adam Grant.

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