Adam Grant on feedback, echo chambers and the meaning of life.
Wharton School professor Adam Grant finds meaning in his work, and he wants to help you do the same. Grant, an organizational psychologist and New York Times best-selling author, has
studied how we can find motivation, generosity and creativity in our
lives. His most recent book is Option B: Facing Adversity, Building
Resilience and Finding Joy (Knopf, 2017), which he co-authored
with Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. Grant and
Sandberg will be keynote speakers at the Society for Human Resource
Management’s 2018 Annual Conference & Exposition, to be held June
17-20 in Chicago.
How can employees solicit honest,
When people shy away from giving
constructive feedback, it’s often
because they’re afraid of hurting your
feelings. But if they hear you acknowledge your own mistakes or weaknesses, the fear melts away. I’ve watched
Sheryl Sandberg do this so efectively.
As she advanced in her career, she
noticed that people were reluctant
to criticize her. So, she often opened
meetings by talking about what she
was working on and saying, “I know
I can speak too much in meetings—
please tell me if I am.” Suddenly her
colleagues felt safe giving that feedback, because she asked for it.
How can people prevent their support networks from turning into
When the chips are down, we turn
to our cheerleaders and drop our
critics. This might help us maintain
our motivation, but it sabotages our
ability to learn.
To solve this problem, I think we
need two diferent networks: one
for support and one to challenge us.
When I have a new idea, I start by
bouncing it of the group I tap into
for support: the people who will
quickly spot the gems and suggest
ways to polish them. Once I’ve
feshed out the new concept in an ar-
ticle, study design or speech, I run it
by my challenge network: the people
who are most likely to tear it apart—
the best skeptics and nonconformists
I know. Even when I don’t end up
following all their suggestions, I fnd
that they sharpen my thinking.
Do you have a favorite behavioral
I actually think we should ask fewer
of these inquiries—you know, those of
the “tell me about a time when …” variety—because they give an advantage
to candidates who have richer
experiences. The questions are
also too easy to game. You
end up hiring the candidate who’s the best talker,
not the best contributor.
Finally, behavioral queries
often aren’t tailored to your
organization or the
job. They relate
have encountered in the past, not
what they’re going to do for you in the
future. You can address these issues
by asking situational questions such
as “what would you do if …?”
What profession other than your
own would you like to attempt?
It would be fun to try being a springboard diving coach (my career plan
when I was a teenager) and a chief
learning ofcer (the closest thing to
my job outside academia). I’d also
enjoy giving comedy a whirl. I think
doing stand-up would give me a different lens for noticing the quirks in
human behavior, and improv would
push me to take some risks on stage.
What’s the meaning of life?
I believe there isn’t one meaning
of life, and no great thinker has
a monopoly on the question. It’s
something we all get to answer for
ourselves. That said, when psychol-
ogists ask people around the world
what makes their lives meaningful,
two grand themes stick out: having
a sense of belonging and fnding a
purpose beyond the self. Most
people fnd both in family,
religion and/or work. For me,
my job is most meaningful
when I make other people’s
jobs more meaningful.
Q&A compiled by John
ate editor of HR
©Adam Grant PHOT