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The Future of Work

Exploring Your Organization’s Hidden Potential

organization-psychologist-adam grant
organization-psychologist-adam grant

Organizational psychologist and bestselling author Adam Grant has made a career out of helping organizations succeed by analyzing the science of motivation, generosity, and potential. Here, he shares some key points from his latest book, “Hidden Potential: The Science of Achieving Greater Things.”

Adam Grant

Bestselling Author, “Think Again” and “Hidden Potential”

“A rut is not a sign that you’ve tanked. A plateau is not a sign that you’ve peaked.”

Excellence depends less on our natural talents than we might expect. 

In a landmark study, psychologists set out to investigate the roots of exceptional talent among musicians, artists, scientists, and athletes. They conducted extensive interviews with 120 Guggenheim-winning sculptors, internationally acclaimed concert pianists, prize-winning mathematicians, pathbreaking neurology researchers, Olympic swimmers, and world-class tennis players — and with their parents, teachers, and coaches. They were stunned to discover that only a handful of these high achievers had been child prodigies. 

Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill. 

Perfectionists often worry that failing even once will make them a failure. But take it from eight studies: People don’t judge your competence based on one performance. It’s called the overblown implications effect. If you cook one bad dish, people rarely think you’re a terrible chef. If you leave a finger over the camera lens, they don’t conclude you’re a bad photographer. They know it’s only a snapshot from a single moment in time.

Incorporating play into our work is vital to maintaining passion and progress. 

In an experiment with healthcare professionals, we found that burnout dropped after our team nudged them to inject a bit of deliberate play into their most stressful tasks. An allergy nurse started introducing herself as Nurse Quick Shot, which immediately put her young patients at ease. She let them time her, and when they came back for their next visit, they would ask for Nurse Quick Shot and challenge her to beat her previous times. 

A rut is not a sign that you’ve tanked. 

A plateau is not a cue that you’ve peaked. These are just signals that it may be time to turn around and find a new route. After poring over more than a century of evidence on progress, cognitive scientists observed a fascinating arc. When our performance stagnates, before it improves again, it declines. We often need to regress in order to progress. 

Seeking out experts is not always the key to learning. 

In a clear study, economists wanted to find out whether students really learn more from experts. The data across all fields showed the opposite: Students who took their initial class with an expert ended up with poorer grades in the next class. Students learned less from introductory classes taught by experts in every subject. You’re often better off picking up the basics from teachers who are closer to your level.

Improve by helping others improve. 

The tutor effect reveals that you can gain competence by instructing others: The best way to learn is often to teach. And the coach effect highlights how you can gain confidence by advising others — giving guidance reinforces that you already have some of the tools you need to succeed.

The best teams have the most team players — people who excel at collaborating with others.

In a meta-analysis of 22 studies, scientists discovered that collective intelligence depends less on people’s cognitive skills than their social IQ.

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