Relatability and insightfulness are two appealing and underrated qualities when it comes to public speaking.
Adam Grant, a former Junior Olympics springboard diver turned organizational psychologist, has channeled this gift into writing both academic papers and columns in The New York Times, among other things.
One of his articles on languishing resonated with readers to such an extent that it was recognized as the most-read New York Times story of 2021.
The Wharton professor learned the ‘publish or perish’ mantra during his university days when he submitted his first scholarly papers to prestigious journals only to be met with rejection.
Had he listened to his inner critic and given up, he would not have become a New York Times bestselling author of five books, which have been translated into more than 30 languages. His latest book, Think Again, examines the merits of engaging in mental flexibility at work.
In a nutshell, Grant’s widespread appeal boils down to his light approach to bringing research-backed ideas into the public’s awareness.
"What makes someone like Adam successful is he’s got an interesting perspective that helps you wrestle with problems that are nuanced," David Solomon told the Washington Post in 2016.
Grant’s take on some of the biggest pain points leaders and employees grapple with today are featured in his popular TED talks and podcast, WorkLife.
‘The State of Organizations 2023’ report by McKinsey & Company found that among the biggest priorities for organizations are self-aware leadership and re-creating the rules for attraction and retention. In the face of these challenges, Grant’s perspective offers a refreshing take on wicked problems.
Let these quotes serve as a guide for navigating the world of work like a corporate scientist and to keep evolving with the times.
Originality and creativity
1. "Originality is taking the road less traveled. Championing a set of novel ideas that go against the grain but, ultimately, make things better. […] But it doesn’t stop there: Originals are people who take the initiative to make their visions a reality."
2. "Practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t make new."
3. "Original thinkers doubt the default."
4. "Knowledge is best sought from experts, but creativity and wisdom can come from anywhere."
5. "Collecting a teacher’s knowledge may help us solve the challenges of the day, but understanding how a teacher thinks can help us navigate the challenges of a lifetime."
6. "If you don’t hire originals, you run the risk of people disagreeing but not voicing their dissent."
7. "Having a sense of security in one realm gives us the freedom to be original in another."
8. "If we communicate the vision behind our ideas, the purpose guiding our products, people will flock to us."
9. "Foreclosing on one identity is like following a GPS that gives you the right directions to the wrong destination."
10. "Thinking again can help you generate new solutions to old problems and revisit old solutions to new problems. It’s a path to learning more from the people around you and living with fewer regrets."
11. "Our companies, communities and countries don’t necessarily suffer from a shortage of novel ideas. They’re constrained by a shortage of people who excel at choosing the right novel ideas."
Success at work
12. "What distinguishes the greatest leaders of our time, it’s that success is very rarely a goal for them; it’s a byproduct of other goals that they have."
13. "Strong leaders engage their critics and make themselves stronger. Weak leaders silence their critics and make themselves weaker."
14. "One of my big goals professionally is to get more leaders to stop acting on intuition and experience and instead be data-driven."
15. "The more I help out, the more successful I become. But I measure success in what it has done for the people around me. That is the real accolade."
16. "The most meaningful way to succeed is to help others succeed."
17. "Excellence is the product of high aspirations and low ego."
18. "If we create networks with the sole intention of getting something, we won’t succeed. We can’t pursue the benefits of networks; the benefits ensue from investments in meaningful activities and relationships."
19. "Excellence is the product of high aspirations and low ego."
20. "Focusing on results might be good for short-term performance, but it can be an obstacle to long-term learning."
21. "One of my big goals professionally is to get more leaders to stop acting on intuition and experience and instead be data-driven."
22. "Choosing a career isn’t like finding a soulmate. It’s possible that your ideal job hasn’t even been invented yet."
23. "What you need is a challenge network. I think of a challenge network as the group of your most thoughtful critics who are able to hold up a mirror so that you can see your blind spots and then know what you need to rethink."
24. "Never give up doesn’t mean keep doing the thing that’s failing. It means don’t get locked into one narrow path and stay open to broadening your goals."
25. "At work and in life, the best we can do is plan for what we want to learn and contribute over the next year or two, and stay open to what might come next."
26. "Every time we interact with another person at work, we have a choice to make: do we try to claim as much value as we can, or contribute value without worrying about what we receive in return?"
27. "Procrastination may be the enemy of productivity but it can be a valuable resource for creativity."
28. "When you put off a task, you buy yourself time to engage in divergent thinking rather than foreclosing on one particular idea."
29. "There’s evidence that on average people are checking emails 74 times a day, switching tasks every 10 minutes, and that creates what’s been called time confetti, where we take what could be meaningful moments of our lives and we shred them into increasingly tiny, useless pieces."
30. "Time confetti is an enemy of both energy and of excellence. If we want to find flow, we need better boundaries."
31. "I think the worst way to be more productive is to set your sights on being more productive. What you want to do instead is to focus on a reason to be more productive."
32. "Effective hiring, screening and team building is not about bringing in the givers. It’s about weeding out the takers, and if you can do that well, you’ll be left with givers and matchers."
33. "I think the foundation of creating psychological safety is making it acceptable, and even encouraging, for people to raise problems if they haven’t figured out a solution yet."
34. "Givers reject the notion that interdependence is weak. Givers are more likely to see interdependence as a source of strength, a way to harness the skills of multiple people for a greater good."
35. "People tend to have one of three styles of interaction. There are takers, who are always trying to serve themselves; matchers, who are always trying to get equal benefit for themselves and others; and givers, who are always trying to help people."
36. "Every time we interact with another person at work, we have a choice to make: do we try to claim as much value as we can, or contribute value without worrying about what we receive in return?"