Cognitive Skills for a Rapidly Changing World

Assuming the potential or the risks of countless original ideas is something organizations tend to miss the mark on.  Instead of assuming, leaders should be open to re-thinking about how their organizations are structured, and challenge old ideas that may no longer be feasible.

One of today’s most influential business advisors and Wharton’s top-rated professor, Adam Grant suggests that oftentimes leaders tend to adopt the following two mindsets:

This is an excerpt from the WOBI on Personal Leadership and Organizational Culture Executive Summary.

1. Think too much like preachers: Leaders tend to believe they already found the truth about the best way to run their organizations.
2. Think too much like prosecutors: Leaders shoot down opposing ideas and arguments even if they’re rational and data driven.

Employees on the other hand tend to mistakenly adopt the “think like a politician” mindset, where they approach and tell their leaders what they want to hear instead of what the employees truly believe about an idea or problem.

We should build organizations where re-thinking is the norm as opposed to being an exception. Since we live in a rapidly changing world, we quickly become experts in a world that doesn’t exist anymore. What served us well in the past is actually going to hold us back in the future, and so Adam believes that in order to adapt and continue growing as organizations, leaders should adopt and strengthen the following set of cognitive skills.

1. Think like a scientist: Value humility over pride and curiosity over conviction. Surround yourself with others who challenge your ideas and listen to perspectives that make you think differently. Test and learn through different approaches.

2. Know What You Don’t Know: Be humble about your expertise and knowledge. Be more of an “imposter.” When you feel like an imposter, you’re in the best possible position to become a confident learner, because you’re open to new ideas.

3. Build a Challenge Network: Develop a challenge network of people who are your most thoughtful critics, those who help you think more broadly and make meaningful contributions in the workplace. Adam suggests that Disagreeable Givers are one of the most credible advocates in a challenge network.

4. Have Productive Disagreements: Be more effective in opening up other people’s minds and motivating them to rethink the ideas of others, instead of having destructive arguments.

5. Reconsider Best Practices: Look for better practices. Build a learning culture where people are willing to rethink those best practices in favor of better practices.

A good place to start is to measure not only the results achieved, but also the processes by which you achieved them.

When organizations or leaders make a mistake it’s not just a question of whether the outcome is what we wanted, but more so, did we do enough rethinking along the way? Did we rethink often enough? If you ask yourself these questions, you’re at a much better position to adapt as the world around you changes.

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Adam Grant

Adam Grant

An organizational psychologist and Wharton’s top-rated professor, Adam Grant is a deeply original thinker and one of today’s most influential business advisors. Researching motivation and meaningful work, he has constructed pioneering studies on workplace dynamics, formulating unique ideas that are backed by data-driven management science and case studies. His highly rational approach is valued by organizations who want help figuring out whom to hire, how to keep employees motivated, and how to build a healthy workplace culture. Grant’s insights have been developed into a quartet of blockbuster books: Give and Take, Originals, Option B and Power Moves. His latest book, THINK AGAIN: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, was released in early 2021.

Learn more about Adam at his website,

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