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Jacky Sherman

The Consultant's Consultant

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Think Again By Adam Grant: An Essential Read For All Consultants

Preacher, prosecutor, politician or scientist?


Posted by Jacky Sherman on 11/08/2021 @ 8:00AM

I started my career in a far less 'PC' era. The usual comment if I wanted anything different from what I asked for last time was, “It’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind” ...

I started work during a time of strong-arm politics when Margaret Thatcher wasn't for turning!

I started work during a time of strong-arm politics when Margaret Thatcher wasn't for turning!

copyright: us national archives and records administration

The implication being that women were inconsistent, flighty and needed to be appeased. However, it was also a time for strong-arm politics in the UK with a woman at the helm determined to break that stereotype. Who remembers, "The lady's not for turning"?

Actually, Margaret Thatcher could have done with a copy of Adam Grant's new book Think Again, then maybe her time in politics would have not ended in tears!

Grant's engaging book reminds us of what we know, what we think we know, and what we should definitely find out about our own thinking habits and how they affect us in business. He then makes a strong case for rethinking some of our assumptions and looking deeper for solutions than that fantastic advice we got from the 'Armchair Quarterback' which, when translated in British, would be 'The Man in the Pub'.

Now, I'll confess that I didn't really find anything startlingly new in Grant's book, it is more a kind of pulling the pieces together and making the case for a scientific approach to our thinking and, more importantly, noticing when we're slipping into lazy comfortable habits of just sticking to our guns, Margaret Thatcher style.

He identifies four types of thinking and how three of them in their different ways are more likely to lead to increased resistance by others to whatever change you're trying to persuade others to adopt.

I've used as an example, you as a consultant introducing a change into your client's business, but it can be applied in any situation where you're thinking about how to make a change as much for yourself as others.

  • First, there's the preacher. This is when you waltz into the organisation with your bright new shiny organisational model that you know will take them to the promised land. It's all about protecting and promoting your values and beliefs. "If only they do it my way they will be saved!"

  • Then there's the prosecutor. In this, you focus on other people's flaws. It's all about collecting evidence and demonstrating how they've got it wrong so that you can win the case for your approach. "It's because you do this or don't do that your results are so bad. So, stop".

  • The third way of thinking is the politician. Here you lobby and campaign for support for your idea. You express your ideas in their language to gain support or look for allies to campaign on your behalf to win people over. You're looking for "what will push their, buttons".

All three approaches are designed to appeal to our emotions. It's about making us feel this is the true and right way to go. It can also strengthen others' resistance if it clashes with their own equally passionately felt values and beliefs.

Grant suggests the fourth way to go is to think like a scientist. Here's where you and the others involved start with a theory and develop a hypothesis that predicts what the outcome will be if it's true and equally important what will disprove it.

"Then conduct an experiment with a robust measure of those outcomes and crucially make changes as a result!"

He's not suggesting that for every decision you do a double-blind clinical trial it's more a mindset of enquiry such as, "What would happen if we did this … ?" or, "Oh that didn't work out as expected, what have we learnt? Any ideas on what we do instead?" Instead of relying on how this makes us feel, it relies on what we actually know. It requires a learning organisation where everyone is part of coming up with the best way forward, and failure is seen as we're not there yet.

This comes early on in Grant's book and I found myself thinking he's just applying his own preacher thinking to us. I was pleased when, in the very next paragraph, he offered some research that examined if this scientific mindset really made a difference to business success.

He quotes some research in Italy where more than a hundred startup businesses took part in a training programme in entrepreneurship. Over four months they learned to create a business strategy, interview customers, refine their product and take it to market.

What they didn't know was they were placed in two groups. Whilst the content of the training was the same, one group were encouraged to use the scientist's method of thinking.

Their strategy is a theory, customer interviews developed their hypothesis, and their prototype products were experiments to test that hypothesis. Crucially they made decisions based on their results.

The overall results between the two groups were dramatic. Over the following year, the average income for the control group was $255.40 whilst the scientific group made $12,0171.87. The control group had tended to stick to their original ideas and products whereas the scientific group changed direction more than twice as often. Not so much of "The lady's not for turning" as "We've tested out various business models and pivoted!"

So, my tip for this week is to get yourself a copy of Grant's book and start to notice how often you slip into Preacher, Prosecutor or Politician mode. Then take the time to step back and collect some evidence and rethink it through.

I've personally had several wriggle moments myself.

Until next time ...



Would you like to know more?

If anything I've written in this blog post resonates with you and you'd like to discover more, it may be a great idea to give me a call on 07970 638857. Let's have an initial chat over a coffee and see how I can help you.

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