Woman with Illustration of Brain over her head

Posted in on February 1, 2022

I recently started reading a book called Think Again authored by Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. In the text, he focuses on the value of approaching life and situations with a scientific mindset, open to the possibility (and high probability) that you could be wrong and/or that there is additional information that could add to your understanding. He suggests that “we need to do as much time rethinking as we do thinking.” What does he mean by that? It starts with what he refers to as intellectual humility.

While we work through the challenges that are symptomatic of a community that has lived in persistent physical and emotional crisis for the last couple of years, we have come to realize that doing “business as usual” will no longer generate the outcomes we once enjoyed. Learners have new obstacles to overcome. Teachers and staff have additional worries and stressors impacting their work. We have to be open to being a bit more curious and to the possibility of how school and our day-to-day work may look different. As Grant reminds us, sometimes our own experience and background knowledge can generate convictions that “lock us in prisons of our own making.” If we want to be highly effective leaders (and by leaders I include all of us that interact with students and each other), we must cultivate confidence in our ability to reach our goals and enough humility to be open to revising our beliefs about things as we pursue them.

Krumrei Mancuso stated, “Learning requires the humility to realize one has something to learn.” Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize-winning psychologist shared that “he genuinely enjoys discovering that he [is] wrong, because it means he is now less wrong than before.” I never thought of it that way! So how can we, as a team, begin to flex our leadership muscles to develop greater levels of humility, detach ourselves from our own ideas and openly consider new possibilities? Here are a couple of thoughts:

  1. Promote psychological safety. Be willing to model vulnerability and express when you have doubts about your own ideas or may be wrong. It is said, “I err, therefore I learn.” Learning insinuates that you didn’t know something before. As a learning organization, we want to underscore that learning is a good thing, even if that means admitting we don’t have the answer or that the answer we thought we had may not be the right one.
  2. Ask more questions. When working with others, it is counterproductive to enter a conversation with the sole purpose of convincing the group to concede to your ideas. If you notice that they do not agree, ask what part of the idea gives them pause and seek out more details. You will likely find that the answer to your challenge lies in the mix of ideas that are generated from everyone working together. There is some truth to the adage that two minds are better than one.

Change isn’t easy. And changing our minds is no exception. But it is possible to develop the skill, and we are all better for it. As you reflect on how this may apply to you, let me leave you with just a few more parting words offered by Dr. Grant for us all to consider… “Intelligence is usually seen as the ability to think and learn, but in a rapidly changing world, there’s another set of cognitive skills that might matter more: the ability to rethink and unlearn. In our daily lives, too many of us favor the comfort of conviction over the discomfort of doubt. We listen to opinions that make us feel good, instead of ideas that make us think hard. We see disagreement as a threat to our egos, rather than an opportunity to learn… We don’t have to believe everything we think or internalize everything we feel. [Let us all lean into the invitation] to let go of views that are no longer serving us well and prize mental flexibility, humility and curiosity.”