Think Again, by Adam Grant

I typically determine the value of a business or self-help book by the number of times I stopped to highlight portions of it along the reading journey. After recently finishing Think Again, by Adam Grant, I can say it's easily the most highlighted and thought-provoking book I've read in quite some time.

In fact, there are too many highlights to squeeze into this article so I recommend you buy a copy of your own. In the meantime, here are just a few of the best excerpts I'm still thinking about...

The curse of knowledge is that it closes our mind to what we don't know.

The single most important driver of a forecasters' success was how often they updated their beliefs. The best forecasters went through more rethinking cycles.

As a general rule, it's those with greater power who need to do more of the rethinking, both because they're more likely to privilege their own perspectives and because their perspectives are more likely to go unquestioned.

When we try to convince people to think again, our first instinct is usually to start talking. Yet the most effective way to help others open their minds is often to listen.

Resisting the impulse to simplify is a step toward becoming more argument literate.

When someone knowledgeable admits uncertainty, it surprises people, and they end up paying more attention to the substance of the argument.

Rethinking is more likely to happen in a learning culture, where growth is the core value and rethinking cycles are routine.

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die.

In the face of any number of unknown and evolving threats, humility, doubt, and curiosity are vital to discovery. Bold, persistent experimentation might be our best tool for rethinking.


Experimentation and paid search

The next time you do a web search take an extra moment to see how the paid results compare to the top organic results. Sometimes the top link is the same for both.

This article, from the authors of The Power of Experiments, drives it home with this excerpt:

“Evidently, users who Googled ‘eBay’ (or another eBay-related search term), who had been clicking on the ad because they saw no reason to scroll down to the organic link just below it, were now instead clicking on the first organic search result. For these searchers, eBay essentially swapped in free organic clicks for each advertising click lost,” explain Luca and Bazerman. “In other words, much of the money eBay was shelling out to Google each year was a waste.” After the results of these experiments were published, 11 percent of large companies that were buying search ads in the same way as eBay discontinued that advertising.

It reminds me of that classic quote: "Half my marketing spend is wasted...I just don't know which half."

More importantly, it illustrates the need to continuously monitor and analyze data, all the while maintaining a strong culture of curious experimentation.

I wonder how much of Google's income is derived from advertisers who never bother asking if their high organic ranking might perform just was well as the results they're paying for...


The Acorn Method: How Companies Get Growing Again, by Henrik Werdelin

When I first met Henrik Werdelin he was a founding partner of Prehype, a "collective of entrepreneurial people who help each other build new ventures." My employer at that time had an agreement with Prehype to help us ideate and develop a new strategy for the organization's future. I always came away from those meetings with Henrik feeling both inspired and challenged; he forced us to look at our business in a completely new way.

When I learned that Henrik recently published a book called The Acorn Method: How Companies Get Growing Again, I immediately bought the e-version and started reading. I encourage you to buy a copy as well -- you won't be disappointed.

This quote from one of the first few pages provides the main concept behind the book:

I believe mature companies are like tall trees; they grow until gravity constrains them. They may shoot up rapidly, generating tiers of new branches and reaching great heights, but eventually, new growth can no longer successfully compete for resources with older branches higher up the tree.

The Acorn Method is a very quick read and, if you're like me, you'll end up with plenty of highlighted pages and notes to follow-up on. Highly recommended.


Experimentation Works, by Stefan H. Thomke

I can't remember who recommended this book but I'm glad they did. I'm talking about Experimentation Works by Stefan H. Thomke. The subtitle sums it up quite well: The surprising power of business experiments.

I'm still fairly early in this one but here are a few of my favorite highlights so far:

At Booking.com all employees can define a hypothesis and launch an experiment on millions of users without permission from management.

Even though the business world glorifies disruptive ideas, most progress is achieved by implementing hundreds or thousands of minor improvements that can have a big cumulative impact.

The serendipitous breakthroughs may be more likely to occur when managers are clear that understanding what does not work is as important as learning what does.

True experimentation organizations not only appreciate surprises, they cherish and capitalize on them.

I encourage you to take a few minutes to stop and think about each of those points individually. I'm particularly hung up on the last one. Why? Like a lot of people, I tend to view surprises as bad, mostly. An experiment that doesn't turn out the way I expected it to means I didn't know as much as I thought I did. I need to get past that though and embrace those surprises as the author suggests.

The book can feel overly academic at times as you'll sometimes think you're stuck in the middle of a textbook. If you skim through those sections and focus exclusively on the company success and failure stories I'm confident you'll find it worth the price of admission.