I’ve been reading Think Again by Adam Grant, a book which I confess is taking me a while to get through. The gist of the book is that our ways of thinking are entrenched in such a way to give us overconfidence in our positions, and that unless we deliberately challenge our beliefs, our thinking is designed to lead us into error. He suggests the following model as a hierarchy for thinking styles:

Although he makes the (predictable? condescending?) carve-out for his wife’s correctness, the pyramid suggests that most people exist in the lower eschelons of thought pattern, and only a few enlightened people break free from these patterns to truly challenge their deeply held assumptions. The book dismantles how organizations like NASA (and basically all organizations) lead to shallow thinking, superficial changes, and avoidance of conflict. We’ve doubtless all seen this in the workplace, the unwillingness to tackle the sacred cows, or the elephant in the room nobody will discuss, a veritable zoo of unaddressed assumptions.

I suspect the larger population, at large and in the Church, is the “Politician” approach. We don’t necessarily invent the ideas of our community or team, but we will defend those ideas from anyone who feels like an attacker or outsider. Those who believe they are always right, when in a leader role, can do great damage, but mostly because of the “Politicians” who support their ideas and fight all who oppose them. That has long felt like where we are in the Church, often defending the indefensible because a leader (sometimes long dead) has supported an idea or said a thing. Even if it’s clear they said such a thing as a product of their time, we sometimes still fight to make their statements relevant today. We do this with scripture. We do it with the founders of our faith. We do it with subsequent leaders, both living and dead, whose observations may not jibe with contemporary life, but we do it because we are on team Mormon[1], and we have to be right for our sacrifices to matter and our salvation to be secure. If you’ve heard someone being taken to task for using the term “Mormon” in the last few years, you’ve seen a very contemporary example of this.

Actually, I’ll revise the claim that most are in “politician” mode with this slight caveat: the words and ideas of others are always interpreted by the hearer. If the ideas reflect (or can be twisted) to match our deeply held beliefs, then we are still the one who is right. So perhaps, per this model, we can be “cult leaders” in our own lives and minds. No followers required; we are our own followers. We build and worship an idol of our own making or thinking. This is why individuals with completely different values can both claim to be “following Jesus” when neither would agree that the other is doing so. Both believe they are right. Neither is willing to question their assumptions, beliefs or values.

There’s a reason that few attain the thought pattern of Learner. It’s painful to admit, even to ourselves, that we were wrong about something. We want to find a way to justify our wrong beliefs. It feels as though our very survival depends on it. Certainly our confidence and social status do. It’s particularly difficult to let it go if we have bloodied others in defense of our wrong beliefs. If we realize that they didn’t deserve it, maybe we aren’t good people after all.

Do organizations (political groups, churches, schools and companies) even value being a learner, listening to others’ viewpoints, even possibly changing our views? Not much. Even universities are increasingly becoming places where policing others’ words and thoughts are rewarded, either with social approval, or even administrative approval. BYU, for example, rewards students for tattling on those whose ideas challenge church narratives. Tattling on a professor for being too liberal, too feminist, or supporting gay rights, is not only acceptable, but often rewarded by admin.

Conversely, tattling on a professor for saying something that sounds racist or out of touch, even if those comments are deliberately taken out of context, can also reward the person who exposes it. They are hailed as a social hero, and the school may quickly signal their agreement by backing the student and attacking the professor. And this is just one such example. In neither of these polarized examples is anyone doing any re-thinking, listening or empathizing. This is politician mode, not learner mode.

And these examples are easy enough to find in the workplace, one’s neighborhood, Facebook and other social media, families, and so forth. “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name,” two of the three will be policing the others, and the remaining one will be keeping their mouth shut to stay out of trouble.

  • Do you see this model at work in your interactions with others online, at work, at Church, or in society at large?
  • Have you seen yourself change from one level to another in your thinking? What was the idea you learned to challenge?
  • What ideas do you have to take the organization from politician to learner mode? Is it possible, even if leaders were interested?


[1] Satan 1, me 0.