3 Ideas from my time with Adam Grant

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By Serendis

March 1, 2024

I was incredibly lucky this month to have the opportunity to join Adam Grant for dinner during his whirlwind trip to Sydney. Adam is an organisational psychologist and Professor at the Wharton School of Management. He is a leading expert on how we can find motivation and meaning, rethink assumptions, and live more generous and creative lives.

While I was enamoured and inspired by so much of what he had to say, I’d like to share three fascinating ideas he talked about:

  • Turn your Imposter Syndrome into fuel.

Adam suggests Imposter Syndrome has been given a bad rap and we can use it to our advantage by reframing. This reframe is to see Imposter Syndrome as merely as our human brain doing what it does best, tracking for threats and risks. Then, when we try something new or different, we will expect to have self-doubt, just as a toddler falling thousands of times before they walk is expected. So rather than being crippled by our thoughts we can use them to motivate us to fill our knowledge gaps and skills.

At the end of his new book ‘Hidden Potential’ Adam brings a new lens to Imposter Syndrome, he calls it a paradox because:

  1. Others believe in you.
  2. You don’t believe in yourself.
  3. Yet you believe yourself instead of them!
  • Transform from a critic to a coach by asking for ‘advice’ not ‘feedback’

We often don’t put ourselves out there to give or receive feedback as we tend to overreact, get defensive and under correct. It just feels too dangerous and risky to potentially damage our relationships. Adam suggests ‘Feedback’ leads us to either criticise or cheer for each other whereas ‘Advice’ is forward-looking, it leads people to coach each other. The other thing he suggests is to give yourself a ’second score’ for how well you take the feedback. The idea is to give yourself a positive hit of dopamine for being open, to listening and learning and working out how to course correct next time.

  • Takers in a team are toxic! Givers can burn out but not in a team where collaboration = success

Adam has studied ‘givers’ and ‘takers’ for many years. A giver is someone who cares about others interests and wants the group to succeed. Takers are more self-oriented. Adam recorded a TED talk that has had over 10M views on the topic: Watch it here.

The challenge is takers have a 2-3 times negative impact on a team than givers. Takers are great at ‘kissing up’ and ‘kicking down’. When there is a taker in the team it encourages givers to hold back because they feel taken advantage of. This impacts the performance of the whole team.

The thing that resonated most was Adam’s idea of creating ‘reciprocity rings’.  This idea makes ‘help seeking’ the norm and overtime it can underpin a culture of collaboration not competition. It’s an exercise that can be done in a team or even a family. It encourages ‘givers’ to take and takers to show up to give. This leads to each person asking for something they need, whether it be help on a project, getting a roadblock unblocked, resourcing support, brainstorming ideas on a problem or some career advice. Everyone has to ask, and everyone has to give something. This is a ‘pay it forward’ idea that can contribute to a culture of high performance.

Thanks Adam for visiting us, it was great to have you! Come again soon.

Written by Pip Murphy, Principal Consultant, at Serendis.