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  • Jerome Kocher

34. Think Again!

Faced with imminent death, do you rely only on your past knowledge, or do you “think again.”

After a bumpy flight, fifteen men dropped from the Montana sky. They weren’t skydivers. They were smokejumpers . . . ” So begins Adam Grant’s non-fiction book Think Again. It was August 1949. The men landed in Mann’s Gulch to contain a raging forest fire. Realizing they were trapped, the time for ‘fight or flight’ was over. They were two hundred yards away from possible safety but faced a steep incline to the ridge crest above. The fire had jumped the gulch and death was minutes away.

The veteran crew chief, Wagner Dodge, then shocked his younger recruits by lighting a grass fire in front of their escape with a matchbook. Creating a small fire break by denying fuel to the coming fire is not uncommon, but what he did next seemed crazy. “. . . He then poured water from his canteen onto his handkerchief, covered his mouth with it, and lay face down in the charred area for the next fifteen minutes. As the wildfire raged directly above him, he survived in the oxygen close to the ground.” All fourteen others tried to outrun the fire, only two survived. “Twelve smokejumpers paid the ultimate price because Dodge’s behavior didn’t make sense to them. They couldn’t rethink their assumptions in time.

Physical fitness may have been a factor. But the ability to “rethink and unlearn” how you had been trained allowed Dodge to surrender past experience and follow a gut intuition, or even counter intuition, to save his life.


Another example is Mike Lazaridis. “By the time he turned four, he was building his own record player out of Legos and rubber bands.” Fast forward. “Just months before finishing his electrical engineering degree, Mike did what so many great entrepreneurs of his era would do: he dropped out of college.” He developed a device for reading bar codes, and then he created a generational gamechanger: a wireless communication device for sending and receiving emails. Oprah Winfrey said it changed her life. Obama refused to give his up to the Secret Service. It was called a Blackberry.

Before Blackberry, existing devices for wireless email needed either a stylus that was too slow or a keyboard that was too small. They were clunky. But what if you could hold the device in your hand and type with your thumbs rather than fingers? What if there was a single mailbox synchronized across all your devices. The Blackberry was first released in 1999 and inspired the smartphone revolution. The first iPhone came much later in 2007. But as Apple began to increase market share, Mike maintained his belief in the features that made the Blackberry a success. He said “. . . people wanted a wireless device for work emails and calls, not an entire computer in their pocket with apps for home entertainment.” He believed that adding “ . . . a powerful internet browser would drain the battery life and strain the bandwidth of wireless networks.” He refused to allow Blackberry communication to be exchanged on competitors’ devices. Later, WhatsApp seized that very same opportunity.

Mike Lazaridis was super smart. But maybe too smart. He could not think outside the factors of his own success with the Blackberry. Sometimes one’s own intelligence and skyrocketing success blinds one to future possibilities. It worked before, why not continue. In 2009 Blackberry comprised nearly half of the U.S. smartphone market. By 2014 its market share had plummeted to less than 1 percent. Success can kill. Ask Mike Lazaridis. Who uses a Blackberry today?


These two stories begin Adam Grant’s exploration of the human mind in his new book Think Again. Firefighter Dodge resisted his instinctual and trained need to flee almost certain death and in a split second did something he had never done before. The inventor Lazaridis had achieved so much success he could not think outside the patterns of thought that had created those achievements. The first survived by submitting to be enveloped in a raging forest fire. The second was drowned by a tsunami of competition when he resisted needed adaptions to the marketplace. Being a genius is not a guarantee of survival, although rethinking how you perceive and react to a problem can make a difference.

But allow me to diverge and include an example of my own from the world of sports. Buster Posey is a future Baseball Hall of Fame catcher for the San Francisco Giants. In his first five years (2009 to 2014) he led his team to three World Championships. In 2011 though, in the middle of that run, he suffered a possible career ending injury with a broken leg due to a collision at home plate. He was out for most of that year. He returned from that injury in 2012 and was voted “Comeback Player of the Year” as well as winning the National League’s Batting Title (.336), National League’s Most Valuable Player, and his second World Series ring.

But that is not why I chose him as an example. He sat out all of the 2020 pandemic shortened baseball season because he and his wife had just adopted two baby girls, born premature, and he did not want to put his family at risk with the virus. Coming back again in 2021, thirteen years since his rookie season, he faced the fate of all catchers: the mounting physical wear and tear of squatting behind the plate added to an aging body. A player's stamina, if not skills, become diminished. How did he adapt? He did not allow his past success to dictate his future. He changed his pre-game routine and training practices to accommodate an aging body. He cut his pre-game workout in half and did not join his fellow teammates for extended infield and batting practice. Instead, he conserved his energy for the actual game itself. Less is more!

More than most sports, baseball is ruled by ritual, routine, even superstitions. Keep doing the same thing that made you a success. Don’t mess with the baseball gods. But Buster Posey did. Three World Series rings did not weigh him down from making radical changes to his daily routine in 2021. As of now he is hitting .383 with 8 home runs, having one of his best years yet at age 34.


Returning to Adam Grant’s book Think Again, he gives multiple examples and scientific evidence as he explores the psychology of being trapped by our own success. The danger of repeating what has worked before, and even what brought us praise if not personal or financial reward in the past can become a danger to ourselves, especially the more successful we become!

I loved the Think Again book cover of the flaming match turning into life giving water. Yes, we all need to be more intuitive. But sometimes, a counter intuitive thought may save your career, your relationships . . . even yourself.

I am reminded of the classical Greek quote: “Better a beggar on earth than a prince in Hades.” Better to start over again with nothing, a fresh perspective, than to be a ruler in the shadowy realm of past ways of thinking.

Think you know the best solution? Think Again!

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BlueFlame NoenDragon
BlueFlame NoenDragon

Catherine Torres - That is a very good survival technique as well! I cannot wait to get this novel of my own!

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