Lessons from Adam Grant’s Think Again (2021)

It takes humility to reconsider our past commitments, doubt to question our present decisions, and curiosity to reimagine our future plans. What we discover along the way can free us from the shackles of our familiar surroundings and our former selves. Rethinking liberates us to do more than update our knowledge and opinions it’s a tool for leading a more fulfilling life.

Grant (p. 243)

During my doctoral defence my committee asked me what I would have done differently. I responded with an emphatic “EVERYTHING!” If I knew then what I know now it would have been a completely different project.

After reading Adam Grant’s Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know (2021) I think my response demonstrates how much a really did learn in those five years. As he explains, his book is “an invitation to let go of knowledge and opinions that are no longer serving you well, and to anchor your sense of self in flexibility rather than consistency.” (p. 12)

Initially I was intrigued by Grant’s commentary on attachment. He explains, “I’ve learned that two kinds of detachment are especially useful: detaching your present from your past and detaching your opinions from your identity” (p. 62). For me I saw connections to how post-secondary educators have adapted to online teaching and learning. I don’t identify as a lecturer. In fact, I often tell students that public speaking is my worst fear. I wonder how this detachment from an identifying as a lecturer served me during the pivot. Did it allow me to experiment with the curation of content more? The sudden shift from fact to face learning to remote delivery also forced me to acknowledge I didn’t know how to teach online. By the end of March, I signed up for course on how to teach in a mode new to me and as a student I was able to experiment with different approaches. Put in the role of the learner I was completely humbled. Grant quotes psychologist Elizabeth Krumrei Mancuso and her colleagues who write, “Learning requires the humility to realize one has something to learn” (p. 25).

Then I became curious to see how I could apply his scientific approach winning debates and influencing people in my role as division mentor for humanities. This position was recently created to support colleagues navigate the pivot to remote teaching due to the COVID-19 pandemic. My own experience aligns with Grant’s theories of how people express their preach, prosecute, and politick to argue their beliefs. In many cases my first reaction was to act like a preacher extoling the virtues of online teaching and learning, point like a prosecutor at those who were struggling to adapt to our new reality, and persuade colleagues to embrace the changes like a politician.

Instead, in thinking like a scientist I am interested in exploring various hypothesis about teaching and learning in our current unprecedented times. Grant explains: “Thinking like a scientist involves more than reacting with an open-mind. It means being actively open-minded. It requires searching for reasons why we might be wrong – not for reasons why we must be right – and revising our views based on what we learn” (p. 52). Writing for Inside Higher Ed, Joshua Kim also explores the implications of Grant’s Think Again for the post-secondary landscape post-pandemic.

Additionally, without specifically naming it, Grant makes a compelling case for open pedagogical practices. In ‘Chapter 9: Rewriting the Textbook’ he gives an example of a high school teacher who has students pick a chapter from their history textbook and rewrite it to include people and events they view as underrepresented. Rethinking occurs as learners are encouraged to be critical of the information they are consuming and thoughtful of constructing knowledge themselves.

He continues on to challenge traditional lecture practices in favour of active learning, noting “Lectures aren’t designed to accommodate dialogue or disagreement; they turn students into passive receivers of information rather than active thinkers” (p. 192). He also recognizes that while students often enjoy lectures research demonstrates they actually gain more knowledge and skill from being engaged in active learning. Grant believes “good teachers introduce new thoughts, but great teachers introduce new ways of thinking” (p. 203).

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested how to enact change for themselves, and within their communities. He gives concrete strategies for having the difficult conversations we are all facing in 2021. As always Grant has given me something to think about well after I closed his book.

And perhaps most importantly I will stop asking my daughters what they want to be when they grow up. Read Think Again, to find out why.

Open Art Histories: Three Views on Open Educational Resources

Friday, February 26, 1:00pm – 2:30pm EST

Register in advance for this meeting:

Are you interested in what ArtxHistory.org founder Natalie Coletta describes as “rejecting the dominant language and scholarship that create a climate of elitism and exclusivity” in art history? Are you curious about using open educational resources (OERs) to do so? Join us for an afternoon session of talks with three art historians leading the development of open access teaching materials that seek to challenge traditional textbook conventions. Leah Clark will discuss how Open Arts Objects, an open access platform providing free films inspires diverse audiences to understand art and visual culture while leading change in museum educational programmes and professional practice and increasing public awareness about a global approach to art history. Natalie Coletta founded the ArtxHistory portal as a means to decolonize academia, while serving students and teachers and addressing challenging topics in the areas of artistic practice, history, and critique of 20th and 21st century art. Smarthistory’s Dean of Content and Strategy, Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank will speak about how the resource’s free, award-winning digital content unlocks the expertise of hundreds of leading scholars making the history of art accessible and engaging to more people around the world.

Leah Clark, The Open University, Open Arts Objects

Dr. Leah Clark is project lead on Open Arts Objects, an innovative project that provides free open-access films and teaching support materials geared to the new A-level in Art History. She appears in over 10 films on topics ranging from Chinese porcelain collections in Renaissance Italy to “critical terms for Art History” on hybridity and globalisation. Open Arts Objects was shortlisted for a Times Higher Education Award in the category of Knowledge Exchange/Transfer Initiative of the Year for 2019. Dr. Clark was also runner up for the Open University’s Research Excellence Awards: Outstanding Impact of Research on Society and Prosperity in 2019. In June of the same year, her research was showcased in one of 15 interactive exhibits at the British Academy Summer showcase festival for curious minds, “What can Italian Renaissance art tell us about global trade?​,” which led to an interview on BBC 3 counties radio and an article for The Conversation.

Natalie Coletta, Community College of Rhode Island, ArtxHistory

A professor of Art History at the Community College of Rhode Island, where she has been teaching since 1994, Natalie Coletta has been committed to the support and development of affordable, inclusive, open-door education throughout her career. Prof. Coletta believes strongly in the importance of creating a just and dynamic learning experience for students in the foundational years of their college education: it’s the early years that shape the foundation of our thinking. The intention of an inclusive classroom was defined early in Prof. Coletta’s pedagogy, particularly through the mentorship of feminist practitioners Natalie Boymel Kampen and Wendy Wassyng Roworth, with whom Prof. Coletta studied at the University of Rhode Island in the 1980s. A two-year directorship at Hampden Gallery during her MA studies in American Art at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, was seminal in developing Coletta’s theory and practice around the gallery as a critique of culture and curriculum.

Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank, SmartHistory

Dr. Lauren G. Kilroy-Ewbank is the Dean of Content and Strategy at Smarthistory, and a longtime content editor and author for Smarthistory. At Smarthistory, she works to make art history engaging, accessible, and free to as many people as possible—and to do it responsibly. She has initiated several projects, including the successful “Expanding the Renaissance Initiative” that seeks to open up new pathways to understanding art between c. 1300–1650 across the world. Her research focuses on religious art in the Spanish Americas and Iberia, emotions, women in art, and digital art history. She has won several teaching awards and grants to support innovative digital teaching initiatives involving virtual reality, digital platforms and software, and more. Prior to joining Smarthistory full time she was a tenured Associate Professor of Art History at Pepperdine University, and assistant professor at Brooklyn College, CUNY and the Graduate Center, CUNY.