Adam

Grant

Adam Grant Career Thought Leader Headshot

Summary

Adam Grant is an organizational psychologist and top-rated professor who “explores the science of motivation, generosity, original thinking, and rethinking” to help others find meaning at work and in life. As a faculty member at The Wharton School of Business, he leads pioneering studies and courses on subjects like leadership, negotiation, and organizational behavior. Outside of the classroom, Grant is an admired TED speaker and the host of WorkLife, a TED original podcast that “takes you inside some truly unusual places where they’ve figured out how to make work not suck.”

Aside from researching, teaching about, and speaking on topics that are at the intersection of work and psychology, Grant also writes about them. He is the author of 5 New York Times bestselling books, and he regularly contributes to The New York Times. In 2021, his op-ed on languishing and finding flow was actually the paper’s most-read article of the year.

Read on for more about Grant's work, content, and unique career perspectives. In the meantime, he will continue to study “how we can find motivation and meaning, rethink assumptions, and live more generous and creative lives.

Specialty Areas

Writing

Highlighted Books

Grant is the author of 5 bestsellers: (1) Give and Take, (2) Originals, (3) Option B, (4) Power Moves, and (5) Think Again. In each book, he provides a powerful new perspective that will probably change the way you think about and/or behave at work.

Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success (2013)

This revolutionary book on workplace leadership and management presents its reader with one important question. That question is, are you a giver, taker, or matcher? According to Grant's pioneering research, your answer has a direct impact on your career success, because in today’s workplace, success is “increasingly dependent on how [you] interact with others.” Give and Take expounds on this reality and unveils how “[contributing] to others without expecting anything in return” has the potential to be both a powerful and dangerous practice
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Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World (2016)

Originals are innovators, non-conformists, and creative thinkers “who not only have new ideas, but take action to champion them.” Learn how to recognize originals and become more like them in this New York Times bestseller.
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Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy (2017)

Option B “explores the stories of a broad range of people who have overcome challenges in their lives, identifies how we can best talk to and help others in crisis, and offers practical tips for creating resilient families, communities, and workplaces.”
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Power Moves (2018)

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Grant interviewed some of “the world’s most visionary and influential leaders [to see what they] had to say about power—and its transformative role in our society.” Hear what these CEOs, start-up founders, top scientists, and thought leaders shared with Grant in the Audible Original, Power Moves.
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Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know (2021)

Think Again offers its reader a new perspective on learning (and unlearning). With Grant as your guide, discover the power of keeping an open mind and see how rethinking can “position you for excellence at work and wisdom in life.”
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Highlighted Articles

Grant doesn’t just write about subjects like productivity, motivation, and procrastination. Rather, he dives into the science behind them to provide his readers with a closer look at why people do the things that they do. His articles are an excellent resource for anyone hoping to better understand their behavior, find motivation, and/or optimize their happiness at work.

On Grant's website, he groups his articles into 10 categories: Thinking & Rethinking, Give & Take, Originality & Non-Conformity, Careers, Leadership & Management, Women & Work, Parenting, Marriage, Personality, and Teaching & Education. Sample articles include:

Wondering

Wondering
According to Adam, he receives a lot of fascinating questions from people who are intrigued by his work. Once in a while, he answers some of these questions on Wondering, an ongoing Q&A platform located on his site.

Speaking

Highlighted Videos

Grant's most popular videos are his TED Talks, which we highlight below. Collectively, these talks have received over 30 million views. Otherwise, Grant's video content is fairly limited. Based on his habits, he is more likely to share his latest insights and updates in writing.

TED(x) Talks

How to stop languishing and start finding flow
Length: (16:04)
If you’ve been feeling “a little bit aimless and a little bit joyless,” chances are that you’re languishing. In this talk, Grant reveals his theory for how to overcome this general sense of “meh” and find moments of “mastery and mindfulness with the people who matter to you.”
The surprising habits of original thinkers
Length: (15:24)
Grant is fascinated by an inspiring group of people whom he refers to as “originals.” In this talk, he teaches you how to spot these revolutionary thinkers, as well as how to become more like them.
Are you a giver or a taker?
Length: (13:28)
In this talk, Grant presents his research on workplace dynamics and success. He also shares three strategies that leaders can implement to create “culture(s) of productive generosity.”
What frogs in hot water can teach us about thinking again
Length: (16:07)
When frogs are in a pot of water and that water starts heating up, it is no secret that the frogs who jump out will be the frogs who prevail. By applying this concept to the human experience, Grant demonstrates the power of rethinking. In this talk, he explains how opening your mind to new paths, possibilities, and identities can make all the difference between being stuck in a “slow-boiling pot” and being a frog who jumps out.

Podcasts

Grant is the host of WorkLife, a TED original podcast that “takes you inside some truly unusual places, where they’ve figured out how to make work not suck.” Now in its fifth season, WorkLife has attracted millions of listeners and topped the Apple Podcasts chart. Sample episodes include “Navigating career turbulence” and “Bouncing back from rejection.”

Resources

Assessments/Quizzes

The Think Again Assessment
When you approach “opening other people’s minds – and your own,” what approach do you take? If you’re not sure, take this assessment. In just five minutes, you’ll have immediate access to your results, which identify your thinking style(s) and teach you how to communicate your ideas more effectively.
The Originals Quiz
This quiz determines whether you “know what it takes to be original.” While it does not offer personalized results, it does uncover “evidence from Wharton’s top-rated professor that might surprise you.”
The Give and Take Assessment
This assessment “provides a look at your reciprocity style,” or your default mode when you enter an interaction. Answer fifteen simple questions to find out whether you’re a giver, taker, or matcher and gain a better understanding of what this means for your relationships. P.S. The more honest and self-aware you are, the more accurate your results.

PERSPECTIVES

Motivation

At some point during the pandemic, Grant noticed that he lacked motivation. He felt no sense of progress, and he struggled to find purpose. Before long, this feeling became as perpetual as the pandemic itself, and despite studying motivation for years, Grant struggled to break free from it. So, as any organizational psychologist would, he looked for an explanation. Ultimately, Grant discovered that he was languishing.

Languishing is a general sense of “meh” that dampens your motivation, drains your energy, and clouds your thoughts. When you experience it, you don’t feel your worst, but you also don’t feel your best. Rather, you are stuck somewhere in between these two extremes. You are struggling under the surface, losing interest in activities that used to excite you, and waiting for something to look forward to. In Grant's perspective, understanding these common symptoms of languishing is the first step toward “lighting a path out of the void.” The second is finding your flow.

Coined by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, flow is experienced when you’re actively engaged and totally immersed in a meaningful activity, and research says that it’s essential to wellbeing and motivation. So, Grant developed a theory to help more people find it. According to his theory, peak flow is achieved when you experience moments of “mastery and mindfulness with the people who matter to you.”

Mastery

Mastery is rarely (if ever) achieved in one day. And that’s okay. To find your flow, simply focus on making progress. Consider working on a project that interests you, focusing on a meaningful goal, or practicing a new skill. No matter how big or small, a sense of progress is “the strongest factor in daily motivation and joy.”

Mindfulness

Moments of mindfulness are critical to your wellbeing and productivity, and moments of mindfulness begin with focus. To increase and/or rediscover your focus, Grant recommends (1) concentrating on one task at a time and (2) defining clear boundaries. By adding “uninterrupted blocks of time” to your schedule, you create opportunities to find flow.

Mattering

To Grant, mattering is making a difference in the lives of others, and it is an essential condition of flow. But no pressure – the difference that you make doesn’t have to be monumental. To find flow, mattering can be as simple as spending your time in a meaningful way and sharing it with people who matter to you.

With Grant's theory in mind, anyone can reclaim their motivation and get back to living their life. So, the next time you feel yourself languishing, seek out activities that provide you with a sense of mastery, mindfulness, and mattering. These activities are essential to your success, because with your active participation, they make it possible to find flow.

Originality

Originals are innovators, non-conformists, and creative thinkers “who not only have new ideas, but take action to champion them.” They stand out among the crowd, and they especially stand out to Adam Grant. Fascinated by originals, he often studies their behavior, and in doing so he’s developed “six secrets to true originality.” Below, we share these secrets. Whether you want to become more like an original or build a culture of originality in your organization, your next steps await!

Secret 1: “Have lots of ideas, not just a few big ones”

To become more like an original:

  • Generate new ideas on a frequent and regular basis. The more ideas that you have, the less obvious and more original they are bound to become. In fact, research suggests “that quality often doesn’t max out until more than 200 ideas are on the table.”
  • Look at failure as a building block, and don’t let it stop you from going back to the drawing board. Originals are “the ones who fail the most, because they’re the ones who try the most!”
  • Differentiate self-doubt from idea-doubt. While self-doubt can be damaging to the creative process, idea-doubt can be energizing and motivating because it encourages you to revisit, rework, and rethink your ideas.

To build a culture of originality in your organization:

  • Encourage people to think differently. If “everyone thinks in similar ways and sticks to dominant norms, businesses are doomed to stagnate.”
  • Create opportunities and incentives for employees to innovate.
  • To “help employees generate quantity and variety without sacrificing day-to-day productivity or causing burnout,” put your team in an offensive mindset. Encourage them to think about how your organization can improve as opposed to how it can keep up or maintain the status quo.

Secret 2: “Judge ideas in a creative mind-set”

To become more like an original:

  • Avoid comparing your new ideas to similar ideas that have come before them.
  • Share and discuss your new ideas with trusted peers. In this context, peers are often the greatest judges because they “have the distance that we don’t have from our own ideas, but, unlike managers, they also tend to be open to novel possibilities because they’re in a creative mindset.”

To build a culture of originality in your organization:

  • Brainstorm on your own before you receive or evaluate the ideas of others. Research says that you are able to judge ideas more creatively when your mind is already engaged in the creative process.

Secret 3: “Don’t assume it’s a young person’s game”

To become more like an original:

  • Remember, “you don’t have to be first; you just have to be different and better.”
  • View your experience as both an asset and a liability to maximize its positive impact.
  • If you’ve gained experience in multiple domains, increase the depth and breadth of your ideas by “importing and exporting ideas from one place to another.”

To build a culture of originality in your organization:

  • Seek out and listen to ideas from everyone in your organization, regardless of their age. Individuals structure the creative process differently, and you never know when someone’s most original ideas will surface.

Secret 4: “Avoid groupthink (in a real way)”

To become more like an original:

  • Share your original ideas and creative solutions, even if you think others will disagree. At the end of the day, originals regret their inactions more than they regret their actions, and they don’t fear sharing their “bad” ideas.
  • Take the “initiative to doubt the default and look for a better option,” even when this is neither asked nor expected of you.

To build a culture of originality in your organization:

  • Provide a non-group setting where people feel free and comfortable to voice new ideas. Original ideas are usually more “out there” than others, so people are more likely to share them if they can do it without risking embarrassment, judgment, or pressure to conform.
  • Seek out individuals who hold different views than the majority. Invite these individuals to join the larger conversation to diversify thought and unearth new perspectives.
  • Rethink dissent and paint it in a new, more positive light. If people within your organization feel comfortable challenging the status quo, you are more likely to uncover opportunities for organizational change.

Secret 5: “Learn how to procrastinate wisely”

To become more like an original:

  • Periodically step away from tasks and projects, even if procrastination is not in your nature. When your ideas have time to incubate, you’re more likely “to see unexpected connections between,” as well as generate new ones.
  • Look for good ideas that you can improve upon. According to Grant, this is much easier “than it is to create something new from scratch.”

To build a culture of originality in your organization:

  • Be mindful when you delegate and set deadlines. When you give people time to step back and reflect, you create space for them to generate innovative, original ideas.
  • Create ample opportunities for people to reflect, and encourage this practice.

Secret 6: “Follow the evidence”

To become more like an original:

  • Study and learn from others’ experiences.
  • Reflect on and learn from your own experiences.

To build a culture of originality in your organization:

  • Prioritize evidence over intuition, especially when you make decisions about people.
  • Find out “who your best decision makers are when it comes to hiring.” While some hiring managers play it too safe and others take unreasonable risks, the best decision makers fall somewhere in between.

Generosity

Generosity: What it is, what it’s not, and how to thoughtfully contribute at work

In Grant's perspective, generosity is the key to both a better world and better workplace. It is critical to personal fulfillment, and it is the secret to organizational success. Surprisingly, it can be just as dangerous as it is powerful.

When generosity goes unchecked, it can quickly turn into self-sacrifice, thereby accelerating your path to burnout and jeopardizing your performance. To avoid these dangers of giving, Grant proposes that you must be more mindful about both when and how you contribute at work. The key to “sharing your time, energy, knowledge, skills, ideas, and connections” without sacrificing your own energy and productivity is developing a more nuanced understanding of generosity. To start, consider the difference between healthy and unhealthy giving.

Healthy giving is sustainable giving. It looks like setting boundaries, negotiating the requests of others so that they align with your capacity to help, prioritizing your responsibilities, and knowing when to say “no.” It fosters healthy relationships, leads to personal fulfillment, and makes work meaningful.

Unhealthy giving looks like interrupting your own progress to help others, neglecting your responsibilities, and taking on favors that you can’t afford. It creates one-sided relationships, leads to burnout, and makes work exhausting.

With this new perspective on giving, Grant hopes to shed light on what generosity really is. Ironically, sometimes “being less selfless actually allows you to give more.”

Generosity: Why creating a “giver-culture” is the key to organizational success

In any recipe for organizational success, givers are the critical ingredient.

Givers are the people who help, mentor, and support others without expecting anything in return, and according to Grant, they are the most valuable employees in any organization. Their generous acts are “predictive of higher unit profitability, productivity, efficiency, and customer satisfaction,” and they are the top performers across a variety of success metrics. Unfortunately, without thoughtful leadership, their giving tendencies often come at a cost.

All too often, generosity is thwarted by norms, values, and structures that are not conducive to helping. Performance reviews based on individual performance discourage givers from sharing their knowledge, and takers end up being rewarded for their self-serving behavior. As long as these norms are perpetuated by leadership, givers will continue to go unnoticed, and their potential will continue to go untapped. To break this cycle and create a culture where generosity is “more effective than selfishness,” adopt the giver-friendly practices below.

  1. Make help-seeking the norm, not the exceptionResearch suggests “that somewhere between 75 and 90 percent of all giving in organizations starts with a request.” The problem? People are often too hesitant to make one. They fear being perceived as incompetent, bothering colleagues, or directing their question to the wrong person. To ease these common fears and facilitate help-seeking in organizations, leaders can establish structures that “make it easier for people to ask for help.” Common approaches include (1) creating a helping-role and (2) implementing a “reciprocity ring.”
      1. Creating a helping-role
        Research says that people are more likely to ask for help when they know where to go and who to ask, and creating a helping-position clarifies this for your employees. Additionally, when you designate an entire position to answering questions and providing help, you implicitly show all employees that questions are encouraged.

     

    1. Implementing a reciprocity ring
      Coined by University of Michigan professor Wayne Baker, a reciprocity ring is a group exercise involving roughly 10-24 members. During the exercise, each member verbalizes a personal or professional request. Then, other “group members use their knowledge, resources, and connections to grant it.” By engaging all participants in both acting and receiving, a reciprocity ring eases common fears of asking for help. Employees with questions see that they are not alone, and givers are able to share their knowledge and energy in the most constructive way.

    Regardless of how you facilitate giving-behavior in your organization, what matters most is that you do. When help-seeking becomes the norm, your employees have access to a wider network of support; your organization sees overwhelmingly positive results; and, most importantly, cooperation becomes the key to success.

  2. Recognize givers’ generous acts with small, spontaneous rewardsIf generous acts in the workplace consistently go unnoticed, unappreciated, and unrewarded, givers are bound to burnout. They will take on too many responsibilities that they cannot afford, their own wellbeing and productivity will suffer, and takers will ultimately come out on top. But this is not the only way. To incentivize giving and increase the effectiveness of your organization, consider implementing a “peer-bonus and -recognition program.”A peer-bonus and -recognition program sheds light on the true givers in your midst by encouraging your employees to both pay and bring attention to each other’s “unique or time-consuming acts of helping.” Employees nominate their generous peers, and leaders champion generosity by recognizing and rewarding them.Note: When rewards are involved, Grant recommends keeping them small, or else “some participants will game the system, and the focus on extrinsic rewards may undermine the intrinsic motivation to give.”
  3. Help givers set boundaries to protect them from unhealthy giving/self-sacrificeWhen it comes to productivity and organizational effectiveness, givers “are your most valuable people, but if they are not careful, they burnout.” Fortunately, thoughtful leaders can shield givers from this exhausting fate. To set boundaries on giving, designate a helping position and/or designate certain times of the day as helping periods.
  4. Recognize takers and screen them out during the hiring processWhen there are too many takers in your midst, it is nearly impossible to sustain a giver-culture, because “takers often do more harm than givers do good.” Therefore, according to Grant, removing takers from your equation is the most important practice you can implement to create a world where givers thrive. To screen out takers, look for people who exhibit the following taking-tendencies:
    • Claiming successes as their own
    • Answering in terms of “I and me instead of us and we”
    • Changing their behavior depending on whether they’re around peers and subordinates or managers and superiors
    • Engaging in “antagonistic behavior at the expense of others—say, badmouthing a peer who’s up for a promotion or overcharging an uninformed customer—simply to ensure that they come out on top”
    • Rationalizing their problematic behaviors instead of making attempts to acknowledge and/or change them

As a leader, it is up to you to create a culture where givers thrive, and to achieve this, Grant recommends that you facilitate help-seeking, reward generosity, protect givers, and screen out takers. When you do, both your organization and the people within it are set up for success. Collaboration and problem solving become more frequent, and teams are naturally more cohesive. People “freely contribute their knowledge and skills to others,” and as a result, they find meaning and purpose in their work. Sustainable giving becomes the norm, and most importantly, you send the message that generosity is the key to success.

Sources

  1. https://www.adamgrant.net/about/biography/
  2. https://www.linkedin.com/in/adammgrant/
  3. https://mgmt.wharton.upenn.edu/profile/grantad/#research
  4. https://www.tuw.edu/program-resources/role-of-an-organizational-psychologist/
  5. https://fortune.com/40-under-40/2016/adam-grant/
  6. https://www.ted.com/speakers/adam_grant
  7. https://faculty.wharton.upenn.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/AdamGrantCV-May2021.pdf
  8. https://www.adamgrant.net/books/
  9. https://adamgrant.net/book/give-and-take/
  10. https://wsp.wharton.upenn.edu/book/give-and-take/
  11. https://88fca1f1-49b6-49f4-96b9-beb47d8e6947.filesusr.com/ugd/955681_ebab6db8cd814da5852483e441352a7e.pdf
  12. https://adamgrant.net/book/originals/
  13. https://adamgrant.net/book/option-b/
  14. https://www.audible.com/pd/Power-Moves-Audiobook/B07H4XVBBW
  15. https://adamgrant.net/book/think-again/
  16. https://adamgrant.net/writing/articles/
  17. https://adamgrant.net/writing/wondering/
  18. https://youtu.be/a3zPgyvCiJI
  19. https://youtu.be/fxbCHn6gE3U
  20. https://youtu.be/YyXRYgjQXX0
  21. https://youtu.be/CIlgTBmiov0
  22. https://adamgrant.net/podcast/
  23. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/worklife-with-adam-grant/id1346314086
  24. https://wharton.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_9FX2s290AvwHSOV
  25. https://wharton.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_doGPksU5W5kHnrT?Q_JFE=qdg
  26. https://wharton.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_8IBSYYtmBFLqT2J
  27. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/19/well/mind/covid-mental-health-languishing.html
  28. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/15/parenting/we-need-to-talk-about-the-giving-tree.html
  29. https://hbr.org/2013/04/in-the-company-of-givers-and-takers
  30. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/givers-take-all-the-hidden-dimension-of-corporate-culture
  31. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/whartons-adam-grant-on-the-key-to-professional-success
  32. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/workplace-dynamics
  33. https://hbr.org/2016/03/how-to-build-a-culture-of-originality
  34. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/six-secrets-to-true-originality
  35. Publisher summaries for Give and Take, Originals, Option B, Power Moves, and Think Again
  36. Approved PR and press materials, available on Adam Grant's website
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