Think and Think Again

Why holding fast to your opinions may be overrated.

Author: Sherrif Karamat       

Adam Grant

Organizational psychologist Adam Grant will present a keynote speech at PCMA Convening Leaders 2023 in Columbus, Ohio.

Sherrif Karamat

Sherrif Karamat, CAE,
President & CEO, PCMA and CEMA

In his book, Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, organizational psychologist — and Convening Leaders 2023 keynoter — Adam Grant tells the story of an experiment conducted to test the advice, advanced by test-prep company Kaplan, that it was a bad idea for students to change answers on their tests. “Experience indicates,” the test company cautioned, “that many students who change answers change to the wrong answer.”

But in fact, when psychologists counted the number of eraser marks on a series of test papers and compared them with their final answers, they found that most revisions went from the wrong answer to the right one. That matches up with his own observations in the classroom, Grant wrote. Students who rethink their first answers, rather than staying anchored to them, end up improving their scores, he said.

Grant came to see the act of rethinking — and the mental flexibility that it demands — to be fundamental to success. And, as he wrote in 2021, “I can’t think of a more vital time for rethink- ing” than right now.

As we head into 2023, thinking about all that we don’t know about the future seems intimidating. Amid projections of robust recovery — data company Knowland predicted in October that U.S. meetings and events would recover to 106 percent of 2019 levels next year — there’s no question that our industry faces stiff headwinds. Among them: inflation, the talent crisis during a time of low unemployment, a potential recession, and the ongoing threat of COVID.

What kind of responses can we bring to those challenges? Certainly, our industry has shown remarkable resilience in the face of the unprecedented challenges of the past three years, but how can we consistently do as Grant’s research suggests, questioning and testing our assumptions about what will work and what won’t? Grant relates how when a group of entrepreneurs was trained to approach their business as if they were scientists — testing their ideas and looking for challenges to their beliefs — their start-up projects brought in 40 times more revenue than the control group, which hadn’t been trained in the scientific method.

I recommend two opportunities at Convening Leaders 2023 in Columbus in January to prepare yourself for the coming year. One is to hear from Grant himself — he’ll deliver a keynote on the main stage on the first day. The second is attend a panel discussion among Dartmouth economist Matthew Slaughter, a former member of the Council of Economic Advisers in the White House; Christopher Nassetta, president and CEO of Hilton; and Ben Erwin, president and CEO of Encore, about how they expect macro trends will affect the business events industry, moderated by politician and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.

I hope that you will hear something during Convening Leaders that will challenge your thinking. As Grant said, “One of the clearest signs of learning is rethinking your assumptions and revising your opinions.”

It Starts With Belonging

When Google convened a group of thought leaders to help them think about events in new ways, the group arrived at an unexpected place — the realization that the feeling of belonging sets the stage for everything that follows. Deputy Editor Barbara Palmer talked with Google’s Megan Henshall about their first initiative, The Neu Project, which is working to make events more comfortable and welcoming to neurodivergent attendees.

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