Want Your Team to Start Fresh in the New Year? Adam Grant Has Advice.
[MUSIC PLAYING] ADI IGNATIUS: Hi, everybody. And welcome to HBR Now. We're back after a few weeks' hiatus. I'm Adi Ignatius, editor-in-chief of Harvard Business Review.
And I'm joined by my co-host, Octavia Goredema, author and founder of the Twenty Ten Agency. And Joshua Macht, who heads product and innovation and sort of everything else at Harvard Business Review. So hi, guys. OCTAVIA GOREDEMA: Hi. JOSHUA MACHT: Hey, how are you? ADI IGNATIUS: So our guest today is the amazing Adam Grant, who is a really interesting, original, versatile thinker on work and life and the human condition.
He's an organizational psychologist and a best-selling author, so we're going to bring him in a little bit. If you have any questions for Adam Grant, you at home, please enter them in the chat box thingy, and we'll get to as many questions as we can later. But first, let's have a word from our sponsor, Accenture.
[VIDEO PLAYBACK] [MUSIC PLAYING] - Change is all around us, shaped by technology and human ingenuity. We can make it work for you and your business. [MUSIC PLAYING] [END PLAYBACK] ADI IGNATIUS: So before we bring Adam in, I'd love to talk a little bit with Josh and Octavia about our hopes and fears for 2021 after, of course, the time-honored, always puzzling TikTok segment that will set up the conversation. So roll it, engineer Dave. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [MUSIC PLAYING] [END PLAYBACK] ADI IGNATIUS: [LAUGHS] How did we live without TikTok? JOSHUA MACHT: I have no idea. ADI IGNATIUS: Can't remember.
So anyway, so we launched this show back in April as we were all trying to figure out what work and life would look like during the pandemic and after. To be honest, we're still wondering. This is approximately day 300 of work from home for us and probably many of the people who are watching. We're still trying to figure out what exactly we have to look forward to. We do have this handy delineation. January 1 is a new year, so it gives us a chance to reflect and look forward.
So Octavia, let me kick it over to you. I mean, how do you see this year unfurling, this amazing-- this amazing year? OCTAVIA GOREDEMA: You know, I'm thankful that we got to the start of this year, but I'm also so sad. You know, it feels like a year with so much uncertainty and no plans. [LAUGHS] I think that's the hardest part. Normally when I come into a new year, there's some anchor moments that I kind of look forward to and build around. I think the hardest thing was this week and my kid's officially going back to school, but just going back on to Zoom.
[LAUGHS] And yeah, but I'm thankful. This time next year I think will be very different. JOSHUA MACHT: I feel-- yeah, this prolonged uncertainty. Like, just so strange.
Personally, I bounced around-- Adi, you know me well, that this is not that odd, but that I bounced from incredibly hopeful-- I'm like, oh, yeah, OK. You know, we'll-- you know, just-- we're hunkered down and this is an incredibly difficult moment, but we can get through this to letting myself kind of just be like, whoa, you know? Having it all sink in. I try not to have those moments too much. There is something about the new year that for me always feels like, OK.
You know-- you know, let's see. And I'm probably in that camp too of, you know, it's got to start being better at some point. [INAUDIBLE] How are you feeling, Adi? ADI IGNATIUS: Well, just to say, Josh is the one extrovert at Harvard Business Review, so I think this has been particularly-- particularly tough-- JOSHUA MACHT: I'm proud-- I'm proud of the fact that I haven't gone completely insane yet. ADI IGNATIUS: [LAUGHS] I don't know. I mean, the one hand, we're just living through history. It is incredible.
I mean, a Black Democrat was just elected Senator in Georgia. We have a sitting president who is refusing to acknowledge the election results. The pandemic is at its peak. I mean, we are living through it. It's incredible. You know, for me I mentioned my father before.
He's 100 years old. You know, I think when he gets his first dose of the vaccine will be kind of a tipping point for me that, OK. We're moving into something-- something new, something better, that we're sort of on our way. And you know, hopefully that happens-- that happens this month. JOSHUA MACHT: He's coming on the show.
ADI IGNATIUS: I think we should get him on the show. OCTAVIA GOREDEMA: We definitely should. JOSHUA MACHT: And do the-- and do the vaccination live. ADI IGNATIUS: We can do the vacc-- yes. That's what the world wants to see, a 100-year-old guy getting a vaccine. But yeah, maybe.
JOSHUA MACHT: [INAUDIBLE]. ADI IGNATIUS: All right. Well, we'll think about that. All right.
So anyway, let's move on. So I want to formally introduce our guest, Adam Grant. Adam is a professor of organizational psychology at Wharton School of Business where year after year, he is ranked the school's top rated professor. He's an expert on how we can find motivation and meaning in life at work-- in life and work.
He's the author of several best-selling books, Give and Take, Originals, Option B, and Power Moves. His newest book launches next month. It's called Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know.
And you can preorder it now wherever it is that you preorder your book. So Adam, thank you very much for being here. ADAM GRANT: Thanks, Adi. Delighted to be here. Happy new year.
ADI IGNATIUS: Did I mention that people could preorder your book? ADAM GRANT: [LAUGHS] I think you did. Thank you. You might want to re-think that. ADI IGNATIUS: [LAUGHS] Oh, nice. So I guess in some ways, all the issues that we've been thinking about on this show are really right up your alley.
And the pandemic, as awful as it has been, could also be a reset moment for organizations for how we work and collaborate. And so I'd love to ask you, I mean, you've talked about in the past-- I love this phrase-- how to make work not suck. So how do we-- do we take advantage of this moment and build better workplaces, better forms of collaboration and everything? ADAM GRANT: Oh, I wish I had an easy answer to that. I think it's something we're all struggling with right now. I guess the place I would start is right after the pandemic began in the spring, I knew the one person I wanted to call for advice on how to cope. It was Scott Kelly, the astronaut who set the American record for spending almost a year in space.
And I thought, look. If anybody knows how to deal with the uncertainty of being very remote, it's the astronaut who literally did it for a whole year. And I ended up interviewing Scott for my WorkLife podcast, and he said a bunch of things that were interesting. The one that really stuck with me was he said, look. I'd been to space three times before, but I knew the year in space I had to prepare differently. So instead of just focusing on the mission from NASA, I had a goal for how I wanted to feel.
And I'm like, wait a minute. I'm sorry. Scott was he-- was a navy pilot. (GRUFF VOICE) He was gruff and tough and does not talk about emotions very often.
I said, what in the world are you saying? And he said, listen. I had to set a goal for myself that I was going to come back with the same energy and enthusiasm that I had when I left. And I thought that was brilliant, because in psychology, when we study mental time travel, the idea of fast forwarding or rewinding outside of the present, we find that it has a bunch of benefits. Number one, it speeds up your sense of time. Number two, it gives you something to look forward to and reduces the uncertainty.
And number three, it allows you to then work backward and reverse engineer, OK, what do we need to do day by day to maintain that energy and enthusiasm? So I immediately sat down with my wife and kids and said, OK. Let's picture the first week post-pandemic. What do we want to do? Where do we want to go? Who do we want to see? And that image has been pretty motivating for us. But I think the same conversation should be happening with leaders and teams, right? To say, OK, how do we want to come out of this pandemic? How are we going to leave it with the same energy and enthusiasm we had before it started? And I don't know what comes out of that conversation necessarily, but it's a dialogue we should all be part of.
ADI IGNATIUS: So your comments about Scott Kelly remind me, when I was the Wall Street Journal's bureau chief in Moscow-- basically, I was there as the transition from Soviet Russia to Russia. And I interviewed the psychologists who dealt with Russian cosmonauts who were up in space. And they would do these psychological evaluations to figure out if they were OK, if they were ready to do the sort of complicated work that was required of them on that day.
But when the Soviet Union ended, they decided not to tell those guys. And it was sort of too much to handle. Wait till they get back and realize that the entire world that they thought they knew had changed back on the ground.
So anyway, so following up on what you were talking about, I mean, I think there's a lot of sense of grief, emotional loss that we've all encountered in the past whatever it is, 300 days. What's the best way to kind of-- so what you were talking about was a little bit like, OK. Get back into it. Be the self you were before. Figure out how to touch into that. But how do you acknowledge the grief and emotional challenges that we've all faced and we need to kind of reckon with as we move forward? ADAM GRANT: Well, I think the first place to start is to know that the harder you work to suppress emotions, the more they tend to rebound and get the better of you, right? So in psychology, one of the first principles of managing emotions is actually to label them so that you can make sense of them, you can analyze them, you can give yourself a little bit of distance from them.
And I think that David Kessler article you published last year, which was massively important on how what we're all feeling is grief, I think that served that purpose for a lot of people, right? I've talked to countless people who read that HBR piece and said, oh, that's the emotion I'm feeling. And now that I understand it, right, I know this is not the same kind of loss that I've dealt with in the past. But I have faced loss before, and there are lessons that I can learn from my own resilience. And I think that too often, we look to other people for guidance when in fact, we can learn a lot of what we need to know from just surveying our own history, right? To say, OK.
Think about the adversity that you've faced before. What are some of the techniques that really got you through it? Or what did you wish you'd done differently that you didn't think to do that you could apply this time? And I think that sometimes our own experiences are our best teachers, but we forget to go back and actually reflect on the lessons that came out of them. ADI IGNATIUS: So if you just joined us, this is HBR Now. Our special guest is Adam Grant, organizational psychologist and author. If you have questions for Adam, please put them into the comments box, and we will get to as many questions as we can.
Adam, I'm going to ask you one more question, then bring in my colleagues to really grill you. But I think we mentioned that you have a forthcoming book, Think Again. Which, by the way, you can preorder wherever you preorder your books. But if I understand it-- I haven't seen it yet, but it's about the art of re-thinking, of learning to question your own opinions of figuring out how to open other people's minds.
You have an article in the March, April Harvard Business Review about how to get seemingly stubborn, narcissistic geniuses like Steve Jobs to change their minds. So could you talk a little bit about that? I mean, how do you-- I think many of us have been in that situation. We're working with a genius who does know more than we do, who does have great ideas.
And sometimes they're wrong and we need to try to change their minds without getting fired. So could you talk a little bit about how to do that or maybe how people at Apple did that? ADAM GRANT: Yeah. I think-- you know, it's interesting to me, because I started writing Think Again before the pandemic. And I was frustrated just by the number of leaders and companies that I'd worked with where I would bring a new idea or some very rigorous evidence to the table, and they'd say, well, that's not the way we've always done it.
And then I want to say, OK. Blockbuster, BlackBerry, Kodak, Sears. How's that working out for them? And then the pandemic hit and we were all forced to do a ton of re-thinking. And I know many of us had wished that we did that more proactively as opposed to reactively, and we'd actually thought through, OK. If we are ever in a situation where we have to work remotely or we have to be kind of physically and socially distanced, how are we going to deal with that? And I really set out to try to figure out how some of the world's greatest re-thinkers and most effective persuaders end up bringing this into their daily lives, into their work. And I thought Apple was a fascinating place to go, because Steve Jobs was such a difficult person to get through to.
And yet, he changed his mind on a lot of things, right? He swore that he would never make a phone. Now that's Apple's primary business. He resisted for years the idea of making a music player. Didn't want to go there. Hated the idea of a tablet, right? We can see the result of him finally opening his mind.
So I ended up interviewing a number of people who worked closely with Steve Jobs at Apple and were responsible for opening his mind and getting him to rethink some of those judgments. And I think one of the most effective things that they tended to do consistently was to recognize that when somebody really values control, which Steve Jobs clearly did, that making your most forceful argument tends to backfire, because they want to be in charge of their own opinions, right? So the harder you push, the harder they push back. And you get this psychological reactance response, which a lot of us would think about as kind of the opposite of reverse psychology. So what they would do instead is they would plant seeds and they'd say, hey.
You know, Microsoft makes these products that are basically for the pocket protector crowd like a Palm Pilot. What would it look like if Apple did one of those? And so instead of putting Steve Jobs into a defensive, resistant mode, they made him curious, right? They appealed to his love of new ideas and his appreciation of aesthetic beauty. And as they planted the seeds of those questions, he was much more likely then to step up and water them.
And then pretty soon, he would be turning around and saying, you know, I have this idea. I think we should make a phone. And it obviously didn't always go smoothly, and there were lots of challenges along the way. But I think one of the things we fail to realize when we're trying to influence people who are very resistant to rethinking their views is questions tend to be more powerful than answers. And especially the kinds of questions that we want to ask are the ones that allow them to express their core values.
And so once you understood that Jobs love the idea of beating Microsoft as his chief rival and that he was really passionate about aesthetic elegance, then you could figure out what kinds of questions that he would answer to begin moving in the direction that you thought was beneficial for Apple. ADI IGNATIUS: Yeah, I love that. And I think it's-- I mean, even the subtle art of negotiation with family members and friends, I mean, you lock horns and somebody says no.
You sort of walk away, and something happens. These seeds are planted. And you know, nobody likes to be confronted. And then often, you plant the seed. Walk away.
Don't expect it answered. Don't expect somebody to come around. But there is a process that happens. And with a narcissist, it probably is, yeah, re-figuring it in a way that it's quote, unquote, "their idea," which is fine. All right.
So let's bring in-- let's bring in Octavia and Josh and have at it, kids. OCTAVIA GOREDEMA: So Adam, you recently wrote about how job interviews are broken and how managers are constantly betting on the wrong people. Three interviewing mistakes you cited are asking the wrong questions and focusing on the wrong criteria, and perhaps focusing on what candidates say versus what they do.
How can companies fix this interview process in this new Zoom era we're in? ADAM GRANT: Oh, I think it's definitely gotten harder for a lot of us. But I think many of the same principles still apply. We have to be a little bit more creative about how we put them into practice.
So my read of the 100-year evidence on job interviews is that a lot of managers are basically just taking random walks. And they have no clue whether the people they're hiring are actually going to be effective at the job or are going to align with the values of the team or the organization. And so if you care about that, I think the first step is to be clear on your criteria, right? What do you actually need to select on, and then what's trainable or teachable? Once you've done that, I think we just spend way too much time talking, right? Lots of candidates are very good at impression management. They know how to tell you what you want to hear.
They're also-- we run into the opposite problem quite a bit, which is there are candidates who are really promising. But because of stage fright or because they're uncomfortable in the Zoom interview setting especially, they actually end up underperforming. And so I want to move away from these kinds of stilted conversations and actually focus on, what are the critical skills and values that differentiate whether somebody's going to be effective in this job, in this culture? So an example of it that I've loved for a long time is years ago, I was working in advertising at Let's Go publications. And I was trying to hire salespeople. No clue who was going to be a good salesperson.
And I had a colleague, Brad Olson, who said, you know what we should do? We should actually ask them to sell us something so that we can see their skills and their motivation in action. And Brad's idea was to go to the extreme and ask them to sell something that was impossible to sell, thinking if you could do that, you could probably sell a desirable product pretty well. And so we started bringing candidates in to sell us a rotten apple.
And it was amazing to watch how quickly we could see who had the learning agility, the motivation, the skill set to try to make a case for that. I remember one candidate came in and he said, you know, I think this may look like a rotten apple, but I'm actually selling aged antique apples. And one of these a week will keep the doctor away. Also, you can plant the seeds in your backyard, and it's actually cheaper than if you were to buy them in the store, and then one day, you'll have a beautiful apple tree. I had some integrity questions after that, but I ended up hiring him, and he was the best salesperson that I ever worked with.
And there's no reason why we can't do that kind of demonstration or simulation over Zoom. What we're often looking for is just what's called a work sample, which is to say, OK. If you think about the critical tasks or skills that would differentiate somebody from their peers in this job, how do we recreate a live approximation of that in real time? And if you get to see people do that, you learn a lot that you wouldn't pick up before.
OCTAVIA GOREDEMA: Yeah. I love that story. And you know, this moment we are in has been so challenging on so many fronts, and leading teams just continues to be such a monumental challenge. How can someone re-build a team that may be experiencing uncertainty and a broken sense of belonging as a result of just so much upheaval right now? ADAM GRANT: So Octavia, I think the place I would start is to recognize that when we're building teams, one of the things that we fail to do is actually learn from our own mistakes of the recent past. So one way that a lot of organizations try to solve that problem is they run exit interviews and they say, look. If you've left a team or if you've left the company, I want to sit down with you and find out why.
And I think that's a brilliant idea, except for one tiny problem. Why would you wait until people have already agreed to leave the company in order to find out if only you had a time machine what you could have done to keep them? I for years have flipped that process working with companies and said, let's run entry interviews where in the first week or the first month that you get this job, we actually sit down and ask you the kinds of questions we would normally ask during an exit interview. Like, tell me about your favorite project you've ever worked on.
Who's the worst boss you've ever had, and how do I avoid being that person? What are the skills and strengths that you want to use or master in the next three to five years? And I think now, we're facing an opportunity to do something a little bit different, which is to run reentry interviews. And we could go back to the teams we work with and say, OK. We've all been running experiments.
We've tested out different ways of collaborating. We've tried out different technologies. We've probably adjusted our schedules and work routines quite a bit. Let's talk about what's working and what's not, and then we can pool all those ideas in the team and begin to figure out, how do we want to work together differently moving forward? And I think that's a discussion that many teams are having, but we could put a little more structure around it to say, OK, what's the best experiment you've run? What's the most surprising lesson you've learned about how you can be productive working from home or sleeping at work? However you frame it.
And what would you like to see reinvented in our daily norms and patterns of collaboration? And that for me is a pretty good starting point. JOSHUA MACHT: So Adam, I want to go back to something you talked earlier with Adi about, kind of thinking about how you want to come out of this-- out of this pandemic. And this is sort of for folks who are leading organizations, companies, what have you. I think my question is there's sort of a timing thing.
I think you can talk a lot about that, but I wonder if we risk it also becoming a bit demoralizing because we're never-- we just-- OK, we're talking about the future, but it's not happening. Is there some-- is there some risk there or some way to mitigate that? ADAM GRANT: Yeah, I think there's some risk there. I think the reality is, though, that people are grappling with that anyway, right? So I don't think you're suddenly going to surface this and people say, whoa, I wasn't worried at all about the future and thinking ahead at all, right? What you're trying to do is give them a little bit more structure and clarity around what that future might look like, whenever it comes.
But I think part of what you have to do is actually something that psychologists have taught parents to do for years. Julie Lythcott-Haims, I think, has a great way of describing it. She talks about normalizing struggle and saying, look. Part of what you want to do when people are facing hardship is make that an OK thing to experience. Help people reappraise it not as a threat, but actually as a challenge to be overcome. And so I think the first thing that leaders ought to do during this time is to say, you know what? Here's what I'm struggling with right now.
And it drives me crazy that if you rewind back to March, I thought we were all going to be back to work by now in a pretty regular flow, and we are nowhere near there yet. And that makes it a lot easier for other people to open up about their struggles and then for us to try to get on the same page. So I think that kind of open door-- and Amy Edmondson would talk about it in terms of psychological safety.
That comfort that you create as a leader for people to take risks and be a little bit vulnerable, knowing they're not going to be penalized or punished for it, that seems to be the most important step you can take for getting people to talk about some of those frustrations that are getting surfaced. And then maybe figuring out as a group, OK, how much are we going to look forward to the future versus do we want to stay in the present? And I'll tell you, Josh, my preferences-- I still would say right now the present is not that exciting for a lot of people, and so having something to look forward to is probably better than not. JOSHUA MACHT: Well, I like that, because you're mixing in the whole notion of empathy. And we talk a lot about the empathetic leader, and that seems to be a very current trend right now, is like, you've really got to show that I kind of get where you're coming from, and it would make a difference in all the things you're talking about, basically.
ADAM GRANT: Yeah, there was a [INAUDIBLE] study a few years ago, which I think is especially relevant now. The basic question was, what do employees expect of their managers from an empathy standpoint? And then what are managers responsible for in their own minds? And if you surveyed managers, basically what they said was if I care about my employees' lives outside of work and I know what they're feeling and I have a sense of their well-being and life satisfaction, I am going above and beyond. When you talk to those managers' direct reports, they said, mm, no. That's actually part of my manager's job. I expect them at bare minimum to care about me as a human being and have a sense of how I'm doing.
And I think the pandemic has maybe closed that gap a little bit, right? On the one hand, I think it's made managers much more aware of the importance of mental health, of thinking about employee well-being in life, not just engagement at work. And on the other hand, I think it's also made employees a little bit more comfortable saying, you know what? I would really love to be at this meeting, but I've got to homeschool my three kids right now on Zoom, and this is not an easy task. And I think my hope is that one of the silver linings of this pandemic is that managers really start to take it as their responsibility to care about the people they manage, not just the productivity that they end up yielding.
JOSHUA MACHT: That makes sense. Now, let me switch gears for one second before we go to-- because we have a lot of questions here from our viewers. But I am super curious. So you're incredibly productive and very prolific.
So first off, are you still-- have you maintained that? And if so, how? [LAUGHTER] ADAM GRANT: I never feel productive, so I think that's the first key to productivity is setting ridiculously ambitious goals that you never reach. Because if you always feel like you're behind, then you always have something to chase or something to work toward. Honestly, I don't track my productivity in any way, shape or form. And that's in large part because I don't think productivity is a goal, right? It's a means to a series of ends that I really care about. So I've never woken up in the morning and said, you know what? I'm really energized because I'm going to get a lot done today. I don't care about the quantity I produce.
I care about the quality I produce and the impact it has. And so for me, what that's meant is I want to start each week with real clarity about what projects I care about and who I'm trying to help and what problems I want to solve. And then I try to think about that much more in terms of attention management than time management.
So for years, when people have talked about time management, I've said, well, you know, you can't really add more hours in the day. And the more time you spend trying to optimize your calendar, the more aware you become and frustrated you become about all the hours you waste. For me, attention management is a subtle but powerful shift to say, you know what? I'm going to prioritize in a very clear way the people and projects that matter to me. And once I've done that, it does not matter how long they take, because those are the things that I care about working on. And so I'm trying then, I guess, to be much more clear about what I'm after ultimately than how much I'm producing.
JOSHUA MACHT: [INAUDIBLE] that's great. That's great. OK. So I'm going to go to some questions from the folks who are viewing.
And one comes from-- a really interesting question here, kind of in line with the work you're doing that you talked about with Steve Jobs from [INAUDIBLE]---- I'm probably not getting that name exactly right-- apologies-- from Nigeria who asks, in some conservative companies, leadership is still a bit uncomfortable having their workers adopt work from home. They tend to believe that people are more productive when physically present. I think we've kind of all experienced different managers like that. How can we convince them that productivity could actually increase with work from home? ADAM GRANT: Well, I always like to start with the data there. So there was a meta analysis by Gajendran and Harrison published 2007-- so this is obviously way before the pandemic-- accumulating every study that had ever looked at the relationship between working from home or telecommuting and a whole host of outcomes at work. And they found that as long as you're in the office at least about two and a half days a week, there's no cost to performance or satisfaction or even to co-worker collaborations and relationships.
And then you start wondering, but, OK. A lot of us are not in the office at all, right? So we're not hitting that sweet spot of being together half the week. Is that bad news? Empirically, I think the data say probably not. There's a great experiment that Nick Bloom did that he led in China at a call center called Ctrip. And basically, half of the employees in the study were randomly assigned to work from home, and they did that for over six months. They were 13.5% more productive on average,
in part because they were more able to focus on their work, in part because they seemed to experience a sense of loyalty from the flexibility and autonomy they were given. And they were also half as likely to quit over the next nine months. Now, I don't think that means that working from home is something that everyone wants. Interestingly, after the experiment was over, half of those employees decided they wanted to come back to work. They missed the structure. They missed the community.
Some of them even said, I kind of miss my boss, and I never thought I'd say that. And they also faced some disparities around promotions, that despite being more productive, the people who worked from home were less likely to get promoted because they lacked face time with managers. So there are obviously some kinks to work out in that system. But I think that evidence shows us-- and there are a number of experiments now like it that suggest that when people get to choose where they work and when they work, they actually tend to become a little bit more motivated.
And of course, we need to figure out the coordination challenges. But there are actually ways to do that, which we could talk about. So I would just start and say, look.
Let's look at the data from careful, rigorous, controlled experiments. And then if we want to run our own internal experiments, let's actually see what the effect is. And then we can gather our own data and prove ourselves right or wrong. JOSHUA MACHT: So this-- I don't know. This occurs to me as you're talking.
You know, we've been doing this for so long now that we're starting to bring a lot of new people into our companies, and the culture that we're bringing them into isn't necessarily representative. So I'm curious-- from your point of view, you know, it's-- because culture's something you experience. But now we're in the-- now we're in the business of actually explaining it to people. This is who we are, because you're not actually coming here.
I mean, do you think that there are sort of tips and tricks for bringing new people into environments which we're going to be doing more and more of over the next few months? ADAM GRANT: Tricks, I hope not. Tips, definitely. So there's a great experiment that Dan Cable, Brad Staats, and Francesca Gino did where they had people go through different kinds of onboarding experiences. So there's a control group that goes through standard organizational onboarding, and then there are two experimental groups, one of which really gets sort of socialized into the culture. So you learn what the organization is all about.
You're told stories. You get to understand the values in depth. And that doesn't seem to do a whole lot when it comes to people's performance or their retention. What does work is a different approach, which says, you know what? Instead of trying to bring the organization to you, let's bring you to the organization. And so employees in that condition are invited to basically share their personal highlight reel and talk about the times when they were at their best.
And that opportunity to express themselves, their strengths, their values, their passions, is enough to boost both their performance and their retention over the next six months. And I think this is especially important during this pandemic, right? Because it is-- to your point, it's really hard to taste and touch and feel an organization when you haven't gotten to physically be present there. So one of the best things we can do is we can say, look.
People want to express themselves, right? They want to make their values and their strengths apparent to their new colleagues. And if we give them the opportunity to do that, then they're going to feel a sense of connection to the organization. They're also going to then have a say in actually shaping what the culture is. An interesting example of how to do that is an IDO where when you join, you're asked to give a talk to the organization. It could be about a passion of yours or it could be a skill that you want to teach to everyone. But that way, all your new colleagues have a sense of who you are and what we do.
And interestingly, I've been doing this in my classroom at Wharton for the past few years. It was a student-driven idea that students should volunteer to give passion talks so that we can all get to know each other outside of the content of the class. And the first year we did it, we had about a dozen students sign up, and it was remarkable.
They taught us how to design buildings that were aligned with a natural environment as opposed to sticking out like a sore thumb. They also-- we learned how to beatbox from one of the students. And it was such a powerful experience to get to know the-- I guess every member of the class in a much more personal way who volunteered. And I said, you know what? Moving forward, this is going to be a staple of the course, and I'm going to ask every student to give a passion talk and explain something that they really love to the class. I have never seen people bond so quickly or so meaningfully than just watching them give this one-minute talk about something they care deeply about. So I think it's a practice that any organization could try pretty easily in onboarding.
JOSHUA MACHT: Mm. That's great. ADI IGNATIUS: Well, I want to jump in and ask one question that's very much topical today, and that's about partisanship. I mean, we've sort of identified that as one of the issues at HBR we'd love to help make progress on. We're not exactly sure how, but we're trying to figure that out now.
But it just-- it's so pernicious, obviously, and stands in the way of making progress in a lot of areas. So I'd love, Adam, your thoughts. What can be done at the level of the corporation, the organization teams or something to address this issue at that level and maybe have an effect then on kind of the national level? ADAM GRANT: Wow.
Given that I have a book coming out next month about the power of knowing what you don't know, this is a good moment to say, I don't know. Right? I think this is an incredibly complicated problem. There are lots of brilliant, knowledgeable people working on it. I'm not sure that anybody has a silver bullet.
I will say of all the research I've read, there are probably two things that have piqued my interest the most in the past few months, so I'll throw these out there on the table as things that other people have taught me that I've been thinking a lot about, and put the ideas in your capable hands to figure out if there's something actionable here. The first one is an idea from consumer psychology from marketing researchers called solution aversion. And the basic premise is that when we hear a solution we don't like, we often will reject or dismiss the problem entirely. So you see this a lot in climate change, for example, when if you get a relatively conservative audience and you tell them they need to cut their emissions and they need to slash into their profits, a lot of people have a knee-jerk reaction against it. And then their response is to say, well, I don't like that, so I don't want to deal with climate change. And the easiest way to get around that seems to be to bring multiple possible solutions onto the table so that they can start to see that there might be possibilities that are more palatable to them.
And then they're willing to engage with the problem as opposed to kind of ignoring it. And then the other thing that I think has been interesting is some research by Robb Willer and his colleagues, which is about how oftentimes when we speak across political boundaries, we tend to speak in terms of the values that motivate us as opposed to the values that motivate people that are different from us. And again, I think to continue with the climate change example, this is really clear. On the liberal side, it tends to be mostly about compassion and justice and saving the planet. And generally speaking, the evidence suggests that if you were to move more to a conservative perspective, the kinds of values that are more likely to appeal are preserving the purity of nature or saying, you know what? We want to maintain our long-standing tradition of keeping people healthy. And I don't think we've done a very good job translating the ideas that we find compelling into the values that other people might find palatable.
And that goes on both sides of the spectrum, right? I think we need to talk in the language of common values as opposed to divisive values. And to me, when I think about this in America, the crosscutting value that every American cares about is freedom, right? So if we can start to talk about some of these polarized topics through the lens of saying, how do we maintain our freedom as individuals, how do we maintain our freedom as Americans, how do we maintain freedom of people globally, that could be a much more productive conversation than talking about some of the values that tend to drive people apart. OCTAVIA GOREDEMA: So Adam, I'd like to ask you one more question from our audience, and it comes from Pankaj who's in Mumbai. He'd love to know, how do you choose the topics for your books? ADAM GRANT: How do I choose book topics? I don't think that I was very deliberate about this when I started. I basically said, I'm going to write what I know. And then over time as I've had more ideas and run into different kinds of problems, I've tried to get a little bit more thoughtful about what's worth writing a book on, knowing that [LAUGHS] books are a little bit like being in a movie where you get typecast, and then people just want to ask you about that one role you played 10 years ago.
So they never really leave you, and if you're going to write a whole book about a topic, you have to love it. So that for me is the first question is, am I so passionate about this topic and so endlessly riveted by it that I think about it when I go to bed at night, I will talk to random people who aren't in my field about it, I read about it for fun? And that's kind of the first test, because if I can't check that box, it's really not worth spending my energy on. The second question that I like to think about then is, how important is this topic? So if everybody was able to understand it, would the world be a better place? And I think that that's one of the reasons why, as an organizational psychologist, I've chosen topics that tend to really bridge character and success to say, look. There are lots of books that tell people how to accomplish things, but my hope is that we all become better human beings in the course of pursuing our goals. And so if I can understand how in give and take generosity can go hand in hand with success or how we can be original thinkers and nonconformists, that to me is a great way to allow people to express core values, not just achieve conventional measures of success.
So I think the importance of the problem is key. And then the third piece of this puzzle for me has become, how much do we already know about it? How well do we already understand it? And do I have something unique to say on the topic? I think it's very easy to say, look, this is a problem that's interesting to me and I think it's important for the world, but I don't think we need another book on leadership, right? I think there have been a lot of good ones written, so I want to take on something that's a little bit more novel and something where my perspective, usually from a combination of evidence and experience, is different from if somebody else were going to write this book. And that's usually where I land.
If I can cover those three bases and say, interesting, important, and a unique contribution to make, that might be an article. And if I have more to say when the article's done, then the book thinking begins. OCTAVIA GOREDEMA: Brilliant. JOSHUA MACHT: So one last thing, one from our viewers-- and there's a few people that sort of reference this. Claire from France, Matthew from Chicago. The question is, how do we keep our teams and stakeholders optimistic and focused on a positive future as essentially we're going through what is the toughest times here? ADAM GRANT: I don't know that that's always the goal.
So I'm a big believer in the psychology of what Julie Norem calls defensive pessimism, which is the idea of saying, sometimes imagining the worst is actually the best way to get to a good result. I think it's entirely reasonable right now to imagine all the horrible things that could happen. And then once you have that list, you, one, plan for what you're going to do to prevent them. And two, you start to feel unexpected gratitude that some of those things don't happen, right? Instead of dealing with the FOMO, the Fear Of Missing Out that a lot of us have been grappling with over the past almost a year, you actually get to feel JOMO, the Joy Of Missing Out. Like, how great is it that we actually have vaccines when we prepared a contingency plan for the possibility that there wouldn't be any ready in 2021? So I don't think there's anything wrong with creating the worst case scenario list. And I think the optimism then comes from the pleasant surprises and also from then being proactive about saying, look.
Some of these events we can actually influence. The ones we can't influence, at least we can be careful and strategic in our response. And to me, that's the conversation to have. JOSHUA MACHT: That's great. ADI IGNATIUS: All right. So we're out of time.
I want to come back and thank you, Adam Grant, for being our guest today, and for just throwing out a lot of interesting ideas for us all to think about. So thanks, Adam. ADAM GRANT: Any time. ADI IGNATIUS: All right.
And I want to thank our sponsor, Accenture, for being with us on this journey. Our guest next week will be Niren Chaudhary, who's the CEO of Panera Bread, who has been a real innovator during the pandemic. So we'll talk to him about what good leadership looks like in a crisis. So that will be next Tuesday. Until then, from me, from Octavia, from Josh, thank you for watching. [MUSIC PLAYING] DAVE: We're back.
ADI IGNATIUS: And we're back. JOSHUA MACHT: And we're back. OCTAVIA GOREDEMA: Hi, Adam.
ADAM GRANT: Hey, [INAUDIBLE]. Long time, no see. [LAUGHS] JOSHUA MACHT: What did you guys think, Julie and Dave? DAVE: You know, Adam. I think you're a little out of focus. Can you just do this in front of your face? [LAUGHS] Just-- [INTERPOSING VOICES] Just a little bit. Oh, it was fun.
It was good. It was very interesting. OCTAVIA GOREDEMA: Yeah.
Lots of really great insights that were helpful for me, so thank you, Adam. ADAM GRANT: Well, I appreciate that, but that's not helpful for me at all. Tell me one thing I can do better.
ADI IGNATIUS: Well, focus. [LAUGHTER] DAVE: Focus was-- I couldn't get off the focus for, like, the last 10 minutes. I was like, focus. I wanted to come in and do that, but I didn't want [INAUDIBLE].. JULIE: I was like, oh, no.
It's definitely, like, a New Year's to do, the eye doctor. And then I was like, oh, no. It's actually-- it's my screen. ADI IGNATIUS: Now, if anybody-- if viewers are thinking, these silly people are still on the air, we know we're still on the air. This is the world's least exclusive afterparty, so here we are. JOSHUA MACHT: I don't know, you know? I found it all to be really useful.
I'm trying to wrack my brain to, like, if I can give you one real piece of feedback, right? That's a tough one, because the ideas are, especially in this context right now, I mean, at least for me, it's like you're searching for ideas of, how do we all kind of get through this whole? And I really like the thinking of kind of casting ahead. And also, I think in your pieces, you've talked about looking back as well is also equally-- which is good, because I enjoy doing that too. [LAUGHS] ADI IGNATIUS: I have a question-- ADAM GRANT: I often feel like people struggle with the distinction between reflection and rumination, not realizing that looking back and having the same thoughts about your past experiences that you had before is not going to do any good for you. But actually saying OK, wait.
Have I gained a new lens on this? Or have I interacted with somebody who maybe will help me reframe what insight-- you know, what insight should be taken away from that experience? That's a productive way to look back at the past. And I feel like I know a lot of ruminators and not nearly as many sort of thoughtful reflectors. JOSHUA MACHT: Yeah, that's a really good point. It's so much easier to do the first thing.
OCTAVIA GOREDEMA: So I'd like to reflect for a moment. As we look ahead, the Tokyo Olympics are less than 200 days away. I read that you were a junior Olympic springboard diver. Can you tell us more about that? [LAUGHS] ADAM GRANT: Well, I'd prefer to show you, but very difficult in this context, so-- OCTAVIA GOREDEMA: I've seen the videos.
ADI IGNATIUS: [INAUDIBLE] JOSHUA MACHT: Yeah. ADAM GRANT: Long retired. DAVE: I had those cued up.
ADAM GRANT: You know, I think the most interesting thing probably that I've taken with me from springboard diving is a little bit about this idea of asking questions that we talked about earlier. So I had this incredible coach, Eric [? Best, ?] who had just endless patience with me. And when I started diving, I was afraid of heights. And you know, I go from this kid who's literally afraid of doing more than a somersault to now I'm standing up on a three-meter springboard and I'm supposed to do three and a half somersaults and not get dizzy and not crash. And I just stand there on the board, shaking.
And I'm not-- I'm not willing to give it a shot. I'm picturing all the things that could go wrong, and it's just paralyzing. And finally, Eric says to me, so Adam, are you going to try this dive one day or not? [LAUGHS] And I said, yeah, of course I'm going to try this. And I know it's a big-- it's a major goal for me. It's part of where I need to-- you know, what I need to master in order to get to the next stage of my career. Oh, thank you for that.
[LAUGHTER] And once I realized that I was planning to do it, it sort of-- it became clear, why not today? I might as well get this out of the way. And I think years of that kind of conversation is the diver and then being in the coaching role and having the same kinds of discussions with divers, it just-- it just reinforced for me that so often when we're trying to reason with other people, the best thing we can do is actually let them reason with themselves and ask them questions that elicit their own ideas and their own motivations as opposed to trying to give them the answer, which is something I don't do often enough, but I think we should all have a coach like that in our lives. JULIE: So I have a question. ADI IGNATIUS: I have a-- oh, go ahead, Julie.
JULIE: Oh, I was just curious. Did you know that you were afraid of heights before you signed up to a diver? Or did you get to the top of the ladder and go, uh-oh. This is going to be an extra wrinkle. ADAM GRANT: Oh, no. I definitely knew.
But when I signed up, I was-- [INTERPOSING VOICES] JULIE: Yeah. Yeah. ADAM GRANT: It was a one-meter little board, and I didn't really think through the fact that if I got decent at that, I would have to go up higher, so whoops. ADI IGNATIUS: So this is a morning show-type question.
So I gleaned from your post that you're sort of a comic book nerd. So the morning show question is, Adam, what's your superpower? [LAUGHTER] ADAM GRANT: Oh, I think my superpower is knowing my kryptonite, and then working to no longer be debilitated by it. So I feel like with the fear of heights and diving, then it was fear of public speaking when I became a professor.
I think probably the most valuable thing I've done in my career is face those fears head on and say, look, I'm not going to get anywhere by running away from them or ignoring them. I'm going to make progress by asking myself what I have to do every day in order to overcome them. And I'm not going to say that every single talk I give today is exhilarating, but I rarely feel nervous about them. And I mostly enjoy them, and I feel like that's a mark of progress.
So I don't know. There's a lot of debate about whether we should work on our strengths or we should try to overcome our weaknesses. For me, it's not an either/or question. You have to do both.
But when I look at the people I really admire, the leaders, the thought leaders, the creative people, the inventors, the entrepreneurs, the ones who have really made a mark on the world are the ones who were unwilling to let one of their weaknesses hold them back. And I think that sadly, most leaders and most people are very uncomfortable facing those head-on. So I'd nominate that as a potential superpower, even though it's not really that super most of the time. JOSHUA MACHT: [INAUDIBLE],, what are you reading, by the way? What are your favorite comics? ADAM GRANT: Oh.
Growing up, I basically read everything Marvel and DC. So I was especially into Superman, X-Men. I read a lot of Ghost Rider. Not sure why at this point, but for some reason, it was appealing when I was 10.
And now, of course, I'm desperately hoping that Disney will revive the Daredevil and Jessica Jones series that I sorely miss. JULIE: Oh. ADI IGNATIUS: I'm looking forward to organizational psychologist man. [LAUGHTER] DAVE: You would.
ADI IGNATIUS: He knows his kryptonite. JOSHUA MACHT: [INAUDIBLE] ADAM GRANT: It's the guy who comes into your workplace and tells you a bunch of stuff you already know. [LAUGHTER] JOSHUA MACHT: Exactly.
That's called-- JULIE: The Avengers team dynamic needs an organizational psychologist maybe. ADAM GRANT: Yeah. I think we generally prefer not to assemble, though. We like working alone. [LAUGHTER] JULIE: Batman. ADI IGNATIUS: All right.
Engineer Dave, you get the last word. DAVE: What is your-- what is yours, Adi, as far as-- ADI IGNATIUS: What? DAVE: Like-- like your superhero strength. ADI IGNATIUS: Superpower? DAVE: Yeah, your superpower. [INTERPOSING VOICES] ADI IGNATIUS: I eat really fast.
[LAUGHTER] DAVE: I was going to-- that's fine. I eat excessively. ADI IGNATIUS: Yeah.
JULIE: Skill. DAVE: And really fast. And Josh? JOSHUA MACHT: Superpower? DAVE: Yeah. JOSHUA MACHT: I don't know that's a great question. I, um-- DAVE: All right, forget it. Octavia, what's your superpower? JULIE: Josh is very talented and-- OCTAVIA GOREDEMA: I'm a really good multitasker.
DAVE: Oh. Let's leave it on that. [LAUGHTER] All right. Did we take up enough of Adam's time? Should we let you go? ADI IGNATIUS: [INAUDIBLE] DAVE: All right.
Well, thank you all. Happy new year. ADAM GRANT: Good to see you all.
JULIE: Happy new year. DAVE: Take care, Adam. Thank you. [MUSIC PLAYING]