The Joy of Being Wrong, and Other Lessons from Adam Grant

by | Aug 11, 2022 | Books, Self-Leadership

When was the last time you were really wrong about something? In elementary school, I adamantly defended to my teacher something that my friends told me at recess—that the USA included 52 states. My teacher corrected me, there were only 50 United States. Firm in my beliefs, I argued back and forth with her, and eventually concluded that my teacher knew nothing, and my friends couldn’t possibly have been wrong. Anchoring bias, or believing the first thing you hear, is one of the many reasons we pursue a losing path when we should be pausing to rethink, according to Adam Grant. When we rethink our convictions, we invite opportunities for growth, we let go of beliefs that no longer serve us, and we can improve outcomes for the teams and organizations we work with.

The Sanger team recently finished our summer development book Think Again, by Michigan alum Adam Grant. In it, Grant offers a number of suggestions for how to rethink our convictions, embrace doubt, and avoid the pitfalls of our flawed beliefs. Here are a few suggestions I found that applied to my life.

How to Rethink:

  1. Untie yourself from your assumptions: Grant says that in order to rethink, you must detach from your preconceptions. “I’ve learned that two kinds of detachment are especially useful: detaching your present from your past and detaching your opinions from your identity.” In order to avoid being off the mark, we have to let go of assumptions that we made in the past and reevaluate with data in front of us. Often, our identity may be wrapped up in this old version of reality. My second-grade self didn’t want to believe that there were 50 states. What would that say about my friends? What does it say about how gullible I am? There have to be 52 states! If I accepted new information, it would prove that I had been duped.
  2. Engage with the right kind of conflict: In interpersonal relationships, conflict may be regarded as a threat to a team’s psychological safety. However, Grant differentiates between relationship conflict (which gets emotional and personal) and task conflict (where teams clash about ideas and opinions). He explains that productive teams avoid the former and welcome the latter. Task conflict early on is linked to higher creativity and smarter choices. It “…can be constructive when it brings diversity of thought…”, and, as long as teams keep their relationship conflict minimal, arguing about ideas and opinions can lead to better outcomes. 
  3. Acknowledge complexity: It is a basic tendency to simplify complex concepts into digestible categories. However, when we fall into this binary bias, we risk making incorrect conclusions. When we handle complex issues and acknowledge our own skepticism, we spur rethinking in others. According to Grant, “When someone knowledgeable admits uncertainty, it surprises people, and they end up paying more attention to the substance of the argument.” Lest your imposter syndrome creep in, allow yourself to work with complexity and manage ambiguity—a competency employers love to hear about.

Our old conclusions may need challenging. When new information comes to light, throwing a wrench in our plans, we should recognize the opportunity to eliminate an issue. I’m not one who enjoys being wrong; I like the comfortable little box I’ve built for myself. Grant challenges us to smash our preconceptions, rethink what we already know, and find the joy in being wrong.