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Archive for the “Adam Grant” Category

Wallace_StevensAmerican poet Wallace Stevens said “It is necessary to any originality to have the courage to be an amateur.”

Some might say that Stevens himself stayed an amateur till the day he died, as he spent his whole life as a full-time insurance executive in Hartford, Connecticut.

Adam Grant of Wharton Business School would have approved. Grant celebrates inspired amateurs among other counterintuitive insights in his captivating new book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.  His book is huge, wonderful fun.  I found myself laughing aloud several times reading it.  (The book has a spiritual kinship to Outliers and other Malcolm Gladwell books.)

Grant defines originality simply as “introducing and advancing an idea that’s relatively unusual within a particular domain.” Though he never cites Wallace Stevens in Originals, he conveys that the great truths often come out of the work of impassioned amateurs and generalists.  For example, he cites Galileo. One of Galileo’s discoveries was the mountains on the moon. Though many of Galileo’s contemporaries could see the same images he did, Galileo was able to recognize the images as mountains because of his practiced training and expertise in drawing. Grant points out that one thing that differentiates Nobel Prize-winning scientists form others is that they are very often committed to artistic hobbies. Originalists tend not to be blinkered-vision nerds, contrary to the popular cliche.

Another shibboleth that Grant challenges is the idea that successful entrepreneurs are enthusiastic risk-takers. Grant points to research that indicates original entrepreneurs are much more cautious than is commonly assumed. Successful entrepreneurs are more like investment managers. They don’t put all their bets on red.  Indeed, he cites a study that shows originalist entrepreneurs are actually more risk averse than the average person. He tells compelling true-life tales about Steve Wozniak and Phil Knight, founders of Apple and Nike respectively, who cautiously kept their full-time jobs while developing their disruptive firms.

maxresdefaultSpeaking on NPR about his book, Grant tells Rachel Martin: “…successful entrepreneurs are much more likely to play it safe and have backup plans than failed entrepreneurs; and secondly, all of the time they spent working on other things was giving them the freedom to do something really original.”

Grant also has a lot to say about the pluses of negativity. Yes, negativity. This may seem counterintuitive to the popular trope of entrepreneurs as the most optimistic of business creatures, but Grant’s cited research indicates entrepreneurial dubiosity actually aids entrepreneurial success.

For example, Grant has studied Ray Dalio and his very successful hedge fund Bridgewater. Grant admires Dalio’s process of encouraging all employees to aggressively challenge his managers about what could go wrong with their investment decisions. In other words, he encourages his associates to think negatively. Or, from the sports world, Grant points to endurance swimmer Lewis Pugh, who claims to have helped himself break many records by rigorously visualizing failure–by constantly visualizing what can go wrong. (I especially liked Grant’s valuation of pessimism and wrote about it myself last year in “The Upside of Negativity for Entrepreneurs.”)

But my favorite chapter in Grant’s book is a discussion of procrastination. I’m a procrastinator. Mea culpa. In fact, I have put off today’s column till the last minute and am at this moment hurrying to get it out. But Grant claims procrastination is often a font of original ideas. He validates his intuition by adducing research stating that projects that begin early and finish efficiently and on time end up with conventional and constrained results. When you take longer, he found, you allow for more original thinking, and more synthesis from seemingly contradictory sources.

urlGrant notes Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I have a dream” speech, which, despite King’s working on it in bits and snippets for weeks, was not finished till moments before King spoke on the Washington Mall.

So try Adam Grant’s Originals.  It’s accessible, cogent, counterintuitive, yet science-based.  And good fun to read.

German philosopher Martin Heidegger once said, “The great thinker is one who can hear what is greatest in the work of other ‘greats’ and who can transform it in an original manner.” I don’t think Adam Grant would disagree with that.

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My old friend Fred Klein, founder of one of the older business networking organizations in the US, Gotham City Networking, taught me many years ago about business Karma.   That is, it’s better to give than receive and what goes around comes around.   I was only briefly a member of his organization, but his simple philosophy dovetailed nicely with my instinct about sales.  Which is to always be giving, educating, informing, and serving without worrying the end goal—In other words, be giving away everything you are and know at all times.

20130412_inq_sales12-aWhat this does is create an unthinking penumbra around you of practiced habitual generosity.  People like goodness.  They see it.  And they buy it.

Hence my own frequently voiced mantra “Good Is Greed.”  Being genuinely open and unselfish from the depth of your being is ultimately the selfish way to be.  Such is the wisdom of  many historical religious figures.  This is not altruistic.  Nor is it naive.  It is practical.

Now comes some serious hard science support for this proposition.  Note an interesting article in the NY Times Magazine by Susan Dominus last month (March 27, 2013) titled “Is Giving the Secret of Getting Ahead?“.  It’s about the work of Dr. Adam Grant of Wharton.  Grant’s research is soon to be published  in an new book called Give and Take.

Dominus neatly sums up Grant’s work as, “Nice guys finish first!   Now there’s research to prove it.”

Grant argues that our greatest untapped source of motivation is a sense of service to others.  Grant has done a number of experiments on this over the years.  For example, one of his many experiments focuses on motivating simple hospital hygiene.  As recounted by Dominus, Grant simply put up two different signs at hand washing stations in a hospital.  “One sign reminded doctors and nurses, ‘Hand hygiene prevents you from catching diseases’; another read, ‘Hand hygiene prevents patients from catching diseases.’  Grant measured the amount of soap used at each station.  Doctors and nurses at the station where the sign referred to their patients used 45 percent more soap or hand sanitizer.”

Grant’s work divides the world into three types of people.

  1. Givers – Give without expectation of immediate gain.  They are never too busy to help.
  2. Matchers – Give when they see themselves getting something back of equal worth.  (Most people are Matchers, according to Grant.)
  3. Takers – Seek to come out ahead in every exchange.

In his research, Grant notes that the givers are over represented on both ends of the spectrum of success.  The failures in the giver category are those who equate giving with being a doormat.  The successful givers combine their concern for others with self-interest and discipline.  Grant terms this “efficient giving.”

annefrankGrant’s efficient giving does mean managing and planning your time.  (He apparently applies his theories to his own life.  In addition to being a nonpareil scholar he is the highest rated professor by students at Wharton and is known for always saying “yes” to all requests.  In other words, he personally walks his talk.  Successfully.)  Dominus describes Grant’s “bright-line rule”:  Unless the person on the other end is a proven taker, just do it—collaborate, offer up, grant the favor.

I recently read The Diary of Anne Frank with my daughter.  This sentence leapt out at me.  “No one has ever become poor by giving.”   Thanks, Anne.

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