Dr. Adam Grant: How to Unlock Your Potential, Motivation & Unique Abilities

Dr. Adam Grant: How to Unlock Your Potential, Motivation & Unique Abilities

Dr. Adam Grant (00:00:00)

  • Dr. Adam Grant is an organizational psychology professor at Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
  • Authored five bestselling books including a recent one named "Hidden Potential."
  • Has degrees from Harvard University and University of Michigan.
  • The podcast discusses peer-reviewed studies and tools to face challenges, overcome procrastination, navigate blind spots, and boost motivation and creativity.
  • It also covers the foundations of performance: confidence and sustained growth mindset.
  • By the end of this episode, listeners will gain practical tools for various endeavors.

Procrastination & Emotion; Curiosity (00:05:56)

  • Procrastination is often about avoiding negative emotions associated with tasks, not laziness.
  • Common negative emotions causing procrastination include boredom, fear, anxiety, and confusion.
  • Dr. Grant himself precrastinates, doing tasks early due to the pressure he feels at the start.
  • Host Andrew Huberman sees deadlines as a positive, stimulating focus and prefers others imposing them.
  • Huberman's approach isn't viewed as procrastination since there is no expected cost but a benefit to last-minute pressure.
  • Genuine procrastination is defined as delaying tasks despite anticipating negative repercussions.

Creativity & Procrastination; Motivation (00:14:06)

  • Individuals often have creative ideas while engaging in other activities and use voice memos or notes to capture them.
  • A doctoral student's research with Dr. Adam Grant revealed that moderate procrastinators are often more creative than non-procrastinators or chronic procrastinators.
  • The study showed an inverted U-shaped curve relationship between procrastination and creativity, with the peak creativity occurring at moderate levels of procrastination.
  • An experiment manipulated procrastination through the temptation of YouTube videos and found moderate procrastinators had the most creative ideas.
  • Immediate work on tasks can lead to tunnel vision, while chronic procrastinators rush and fail to develop novel ideas. Moderate procrastination allows ideas to incubate and mature.
  • To enhance creativity, it's beneficial to allow ideas to incubate rather than immediately committing to the first idea that comes to mind.
  • For procrastination to enhance creativity, one must be intrinsically motivated by the task they are postponing. Interest in the problem keeps it active in the mind, allowing subconscious processing and unexpected connections.

Intrinsically Motivated Procrastination

  • Intrinsically motivated procrastination is critical for it to fuel creativity.
  • If one is bored by a task, it won’t get the mental attention needed for creative subconscious processing.
  • Having an understanding and interest in what one is procrastinating on is necessary to maintain active mental engagement with the concept, even while delaying work on it.
  • Knowing the subject of procrastination can connect different neural networks in the brain, leading to more creative outcomes.
  • Important ideas should be allowed some incubation time for full creative potential.

Intrinsic Motivation & Curiosity (00:20:48)

  • Intrinsic motivation can be linked to improved performance.
  • Interest in unappealing topics can be fostered by finding elements within them that spark curiosity.
  • Self-deception, such as convincing oneself of interest in a topic, can lead to genuine engagement.
  • Sharing one's contrived enthusiasm with others might enhance one's own intrinsic interest due to cognitive dissonance.
  • In psychology, curiosity is driven by the desire for knowledge, not specific outcomes, and is thought to be related to reward systems in the brain.

Tool: Tasks & Sense of Purpose (00:27:59)

  • Tasks that aren't inherently interesting can still be motivating if they serve a purpose or meaningful outcome.
  • Research shows that a sense of purpose in learning can lead to better persistence and grades.
  • Finding a ‘why’ or outcome that matters to the individual can make mundane tasks like raking leaves more meaningful.
  • Motivational interviewing techniques can help in discovering personal motivation for tasks, leading to self-persuasion.

Extrinsic Rewards, Choice; Social Media (00:32:34)

  • Extrinsic rewards can motivate productivity, especially in terms of quantity over quality.
  • Despite productivity gains, these rewards can undermine intrinsic motivation.
  • Intrinsic motivation suffers when extrinsic rewards are perceived as the only reason for a task.
  • Autonomy and framing rewards as appreciation rather than control can mitigate this effect.
  • Encouraging intrinsic motivation enhances focus, persistence, innovation, and clarity.
  • Social media can disrupt the intrinsic enjoyment of tasks due to the extrinsic reward of sharing.
  • The timing of sharing on social media is key to maintaining intrinsic engagement with tasks.

Tool: “Quiet Time” Protocol, Chronotypes (00:42:24)

  • The individual experiences a daily conflict between wanting to enjoy the world and the desire to improve it, complicating daily planning.
  • There’s an increase in difficulty concentrating due to frequent interruptions like checking email, which has increased with social media and smartphones.
  • Data suggests the average person would check their email 72 times a day before COVID-19.
  • Gloria Mark introduced the term "time confetti," explaining that meaningful time blocks are sliced into small, unproductive fragments.
  • This fragmentation not only hampers accomplishment but also erodes joy due to the briefness of each fragment.
  • Leslie Perlo's experiment showed that engineers who had “quiet time” with no interruptions on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday before noon were 65% more productive.
  • The “quiet time” protocol consists of no meetings, emails, or Slack before noon, allowing focus on primary work tasks.
  • It’s important to set boundaries and make a collective commitment to uninterrupted work time.
  • The time for deep work should be matched to an individual’s chronotype; morning people and night owls will differ in their peak productivity times.
  • Meetings might be more effective right after lunch, as people are 30% less likely to multitask then.
  • Recommends considering protecting the first few hours and last few hours of the day for deep work, with core meetings and other interactions in between.
  • Provided that one maintains a standard sleep schedule, the hours immediately after waking up are best for critical and analytic tasks due to high levels of alertness-inducing neurotransmitters.
  • Morning sunlight can boost cortisol, which should peak early in the day and is beneficial when appropriately timed.
  • Conversation with coworkers early in the day should be productive rather than just conversational, utilizing the morning energy effectively.
  • In the afternoon, there is a natural dip in autonomic arousal which might aid focus in meetings by being less alert, fostering a relaxed but focused state.
  • The subject also contemplates the effectiveness of meetings, the challenge of maintaining attention during less engaging ones, and strategies to minimize distractions, like turning off phones during Zoom calls.

Tool: Creativity: Mornings, Movement, Stillness (00:49:20)

  • Creative work and brainstorming may vary in effectiveness based on the time of day, with some theories suggesting more creativity in the evening due to increased relaxation and lower social anxiety.
  • Early birds might find mornings more conducive to creative work due to higher energy levels and divergent thinking.
  • Transition states into and out of sleep, as well as activities like showering or running, can stimulate divergent thinking and neural network activation.
  • Stillness and movement are two distinct approaches to creativity; where one involves physical stillness with active thinking, the other involves physical movement with a quieter mind.
  • Highly creative people adopt deliberate tactics for idea generation, often finding that ideas come when least expected, such as during running or in a state of stillness.
  • Creativity involves overriding default instincts, and whether one should quiet the mind or the body may depend on their natural disposition.
  • A proposed study could explore resting network activation in the brain during different states of movement or stillness and its relationship to the quality and quantity of creative output.
  • Increasing the volume of ideas is beneficial for creativity, and quieting the mind or body can be integral in the filtering and evaluation process of ideas, helping to separate viable ideas from less effective ones.

Tools: Ideas & Filtering, Feedback & Opinions, Advice (00:58:14)

  • Ideas can come at any time, often prompted by curiosity and the desire to learn new things.
  • Filtering ideas involves seeking feedback from a diverse group of trusted people, both within and outside one's field.
  • Feedback can be quantified with a zero to ten scoring system to calibrate the potential of an idea.
  • More feedback can help distinguish between idiosyncratic opinions and genuine quality issues.
  • Negative feedback may sometimes be inverted for decision-making, avoiding over-reliance on others' opinions, which can be highly individual or incorrect.
  • The validity of the work is ultimately more critical than individual opinions, and seeking feedback before submissions is not always necessary.
  • Feedback should focus on the task rather than the evaluator's negative or positive feelings to be most effective.
  • For better outcomes, ask for advice on future improvements rather than feedback on past performance, which tends to elicit either cheerleading or criticism.
  • Phrasing questions constructively can help receive actionable advice while managing defensive responses to negative feedback.

Tool: Constructive Criticism, “Second Score”; Verbs (01:07:15)

  • Sheila Heen introduced the concept of "the second score" for dealing with criticism.
  • The first score is the criticism received, the second score is how well one receives that score.
  • Reflecting on personal experience, Dr. Adam Grant applied the second score after receiving harsh feedback from a class of Air Force generals.
  • By acknowledging the critiques and demonstrating openness to feedback, he was able to improve and receive more positive feedback in a subsequent session.
  • The discussion emphasizes the importance of verbs over nouns, suggesting a focus on processes and growth.
  • Verbing (converting a noun to a verb) encourages active engagement and continuous improvement over static categorization.

Personal Growth, Mindset, and Continuous Improvement [Discussion]

  • Feedback should be viewed as a means to educate one's future self rather than to shame one's past self.
  • This aligns with the concept of a growth mindset, which requires consistent effort to internalize.
  • A growth mindset fosters the idea of comparing oneself to one's past performance and striving for incremental improvement.
  • Controversy surrounding teaching growth mindset in schools highlights the challenge of transitioning from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.
  • The focus should be on improvement over time (the slope of progress) rather than on a static measure of ability or a specific event.

Tool: Growth Mindsets, Scaffolding; Job Innovation (01:14:40)

  • Growth mindset's impact is influenced by the individual's understanding that stress can enhance performance.
  • The effects of a growth mindset are more significant when combined with scaffolding, where support is gradually removed to foster independence.
  • Growth mindset is crucial in circumstances where people face significant challenges, such as children in impoverished environments.
  • The micro-environment, such as classroom culture, influences the effectiveness of growth mindset.
  • Simply instilling the mindset without proper support or guidance isn't sufficient for success.
  • Interventions at work that teach both skill malleability and job flexibility can increase happiness and maintain performance.
  • Individuals can actively reshape their job roles using their strengths, leading to sustainable growth and satisfaction.
  • The concept of "dual mindset" or "growth mindsets" suggests the need for a plural approach that emphasizes both personal growth and environmental adaptability.

Tools: Task Sequencing & Intrinsic Motivation; Tapering & Frame of Reference (01:21:50)

  • There's a demonstrated relationship between high intrinsic motivation on a task and reduced performance on subsequent less interesting tasks.
  • High levels of interest in one activity can make less intriguing activities appear even less appealing, illustrating the "Dark Side of intrinsic motivation."
  • The implications of this for task sequencing involve starting with a moderately interesting task to warm up, moving to more exciting tasks, and if necessary, dealing with boring but essential tasks later, which could lead to less performance deterioration.
  • Anecdote about a successful musician who does menial tasks after performing to "reset" his frame of reference, making everyday family life activities more enjoyable by comparison.
  • This practice potentially highlights the psychological principle of contrast effects, where juxtaposing an intense or pleasurable experience with a mundane one can adjust expectations and improve satisfaction with ordinary experiences.
  • Engaging in some less rewarding activities on a regular basis might maintain grounded expectations and heighten enjoyment of more rewarding tasks.

Tools: Momentum, Confidence & Domains; Negative Thought Spirals (01:30:03)

  • Momentum from a positive experience can increase enthusiasm for mundane tasks.
  • Achievement in one area can boost confidence and a sense of capability across different domains.
  • After negative experiences, distraction and reframing are effective strategies for emotion regulation.
  • Reframing can involve focusing on any improvement or contributing positively to others.
  • Smartphones can amplify negative thought spirals, as they bombard users with information.

Tool: Phone & “To Don’t” List; Writing Ideas (01:36:16)

  • The speaker has a "to don't" list, including avoiding social media scrolling and not using his phone after 9 PM.
  • This "to don't" list helps maintain boundaries and prevent time wastage.
  • Important lists are kept on his computer, not on the phone, to avoid its distracting nature.
  • Handwriting notes is preferred for remembering information over typing.
  • Ideas should be captured immediately (such as in a small notebook) due to the difficulty of recalling them later.
  • The prefrontal cortex is not the only supercomputer of the brain; the unconscious mind plays a significant role.
  • Blind spots in our behavior can be identified through introspection or feedback from others.

Tool: Bias Blindspot, Reflected Best-Self Portrait (01:39:54)

  • Blind spots are common and include cognitive biases like the 'I'm not biased' bias which hinders recognizing one's own biases.
  • The bias blind spot affects all, even people with high IQ, due to life-long reinforcement of their intelligence.
  • Recognizing that everyone has blind spots is the first step toward addressing them.
  • People also have blind spots about their strengths, which can be revealed through the 'reflected best self-portrait' exercise.
  • The exercise involves gathering specific stories from various people about when one exhibited their best traits; pattern recognition reveals hidden strengths.
  • Understanding these strengths provides clarity on one's potential and ideal situations where these strengths can be best utilized.
  • Sharing strengths can be rewarding and give insights into potential career paths or ways to contribute to others.

Helping Others, Synthesize Information (01:45:36)

  • Early experiences can indicate a proclivity for a certain career, as was the case for Grant when he recognized his talent for highlighting strengths in others.
  • The crucial role of synthesizing information and ideas can lead one to take on the role of an integrator versus a discoverer.
  • Grant realized that his strength lies in synthesizing broad ideas and communicating them rather than producing original research.
  • Synthesizing and sharing research findings can have a significant impact, often more so than individual research studies.
  • The act of synthesizing can be fulfilling intellectually and personally and can also lead to broader contributions, such as sharing knowledge with the public or helping others recognize their blind spots.

Modes of Thinking, Blind Spots & Assumptions (01:50:24)

  • People fall into mental modes of preachers, prosecutors, or politicians, limiting their ability to question their own beliefs.
  • Preacher mode involves promoting personal views and is effective in sales or visionary leadership.
  • Prosecutor mode involves critiquing others' views and works well in scientific or legal professions.
  • Politician mode involves listening only to those who agree and is suited for gaining approval or favors.
  • These modes create blind spots and hamper open-mindedness and effective interpersonal relationships.
  • The recommended alternative is thinking like a scientist, which fosters humility, curiosity, and a willingness to be wrong.
  • Good scientists view opinions as hypotheses and decisions as experiments, focusing on getting it right rather than being right.
  • Thinking like a scientist improves judgment, decision-making, and leads to questioning and pressure-testing assumptions.
  • The challenge is to promote scientific thinking even when scientific knowledge or journals are not readily accessible.

Thinking Like a Scientist: Hypothesis-Testing & Discourse, Social Media (01:56:10)

  • Teaching the scientific approach helps to overcome blind spots and improve thinking.
  • A hypothesis is an idea to be tested, understanding that it could be wrong.
  • Aim to disprove one's own hypothesis, counteracting confirmation bias.
  • Social media often reinforces pre-existing beliefs, leading to "click foraging" for agreement.
  • Evolutionary pressure to avoid social exclusion may drive the formation of echo chambers.
  • Blind spots are invisible without others’ input; diverse perspectives are key for clarity.
  • Following people who think differently on social media can stretch one's thinking.
  • Respecting intellectual integrity is more important than agreeing with conclusions.
  • Engaging with opposing views on social media doesn’t equate to endorsement.
  • A nuanced approach is required when dealing with complex or controversial topics online.
  • The impact of social media posts on followers and the credibility of the poster can be misunderstood.
  • One must understand the foundation and evidence behind someone's work for proper judgment.
  • Discussion of research on social media needs context to be understood—each study requires careful analysis.
  • There is no universal agreement on scientific interpretation; thus, diverse viewpoints exist.
  • It's challenging to convey the full context versus actionable takeaways on social media.

Tool: Authenticity, Sincerity & Etiquette, “Snapshot” & Online Presence (02:05:15)

  • Authenticity is complex; often seen positively, but without boundaries or empathy, it can be harmful.
  • True authenticity should involve a consideration of one's values along with empathy towards others rather than momentary thoughts and feelings.
  • People have multiple selves; authenticity entails being true to one's principles even if it means not adhering to every passing emotion or impulse.
  • Sincerity, as defined by cultural critic Lionel Trilling, involves aligning one's actions with the person they aspire to be, implying internal consistency as opposed to external expression.
  • It's suggested that one should only "talk the talk" if they're already "walking the walk" to avoid hypocrisy.
  • The concept of "snapshot" relates to how we communicate online; others see only a piece of what we think or believe based on our shared content.
  • One should consider whether they'd be proud of an online post if it were the only thing someone saw of them.
  • Not being thoughtful or sensitive in online communication can lead to significant consequences, such as damage to one's career.

Realizing Potential: Motivation, Opportunity & Process (02:12:49)

  • People often believe they have untapped potential.
  • Dr. Adam Grant has researched potential and concluded everyone has hidden potential but struggle to unlock it.
  • Individuals frequently underestimate their potential due to judgments on starting abilities and external underestimation.
  • A common myth is that raw talent is the primary driver of success; however, motivation and opportunity play more significant roles in growth.
  • Access to knowledge and necessary tools is crucial for potential development.
  • Dr. Grant's personal experience in diving illustrates overcoming lack of natural ability through other strengths, like executing dives with minimal splash.
  • Accomplishments are often achieved not in areas of initial talent but where individuals have overcome the most obstacles.
  • The motivation for potential is not performance but the sense of progress through overcoming challenges.

Skills to Realize Potential, Perfectionism (02:21:53)

  • Embrace discomfort to grow beyond perceived abilities.
  • Become a sponge: absorb new information and filter out the unnecessary.
  • Practice being an imperfectionist: aim for excellence over perfection.
  • View challenges as opportunities for growth and learning.
  • Recognize that pursuit of perfection may lead to burnout, depression, and anxiety.
  • Understand that excellence, not perfection, is the standard to strive for.
  • Set standards of excellence appropriate to the significance of the task.
  • Establish a grading system for tasks, reserving the highest standards for the most important projects.
  • Recognize that early achievement can sometimes create a complacency or stagnation.

Tool: Early Success & Performance Cycle, “Failure Budget” (02:27:52)

  • Early success can be a motivator, leading to a high-performance cycle of continuous goal setting.
  • Success can lead to complacency or competency traps, inhibiting further growth.
  • Best practices can become obsolete as circumstances change.
  • Adopt "failure budget" to allow for risk-taking and innovation.
  • Challenges help break out of typecasting and contribute new knowledge.
  • Failure indicates pushing boundaries and exploring new possibilities.
  • Aim to have a percentage of projects that do not succeed to encourage risk-taking and growth.

Future Projects, Complex Issues & Challenging Ideas (02:31:56)

  • Dr. Adam Grant is considering future projects that are still in the conceptual phase and provoke a level of anxiety.
  • He discusses the idea of stepping out of one's comfort zone as a method to challenge oneself.
  • Grant notes a desire to expand beyond his "WorkLife" podcast, addressing broader psychological topics through a new show called "Rethinking."
  • He contemplates experimenting with a podcast format inspired by tag team wrestling, where people can tag in during a debate on complex issues.
  • As a potential topic for this format, Grant suggests a discussion on policies for transgender athletes, which he believes lacks clear consensus even among experts.
  • The aim would be to foster a deeper understanding by bringing together different perspectives to form more insightful discussions.
  • Another idea mentioned is to gather non-ideological experts to pragmatically rewrite the Constitution for modern society.
  • Grant highlights the importance of challenging beliefs and catalyzing evolved thinking on issues that matter to people.
  • On a separate personal note, he debates whether writing a sci-fi novel would be a valuable use of his time given his expertise as a social scientist.

Artistic Hobbies, Magicians (02:40:10)

  • Nobel prize-winning scientists are more likely to engage in artistic hobbies compared to their peers
  • They are twice as likely to play musical instruments, seven times to draw or paint, twelve times to engage in creative writing, and twenty-two times more likely to perform as magicians
  • Risk and thrill are integral to the performance of magicians and mentalists; creating and erasing memories is a part of their act
  • Dr. Adam Grant, once a professional magician, sees parallels between magic and science communication
  • The art of magic involves surprising the audience in a delightful way rather than making them feel manipulated

Science Communication, Interest & Self-Relevance (02:45:55)

  • Effective science communication should be interesting, clear, actionable, surprising, and importantly, rigorous
  • Rigor acts as the foundation, confirming that the information is based on well-conducted scientific research
  • Intriguing scientific ideas often live because they're interesting and surprise by challenging assumptions
  • Interest can be driven by surprising findings, but also by topics that encourage self-reflection or explain personal experiences
  • Sharing scientific findings that resonate on a personal level can provide language and understanding for common but previously unarticulated experiences
  • Learning that others share our experiences can be comforting and reduce feelings of isolation, proving powerful in itself

Languishing, Descriptive Language & Emotions (02:52:16)

  • Naming emotions can help regulate them; this is the concept of "name it to tame it".
  • Describing feelings allows individuals to process emotions rather than be controlled by them.
  • In 2021, an article on 'languishing' resonated widely, introducing a term for a state of absence in well-being but not full-blown depression or burnout.
  • Languishing represents feeling stagnant, empty, and without purpose, especially during global crises where people feel stuck.
  • The importance of scientists providing language to articulate feelings is highlighted.
  • Understanding the brain's role in emotions via cognitive neuroscience can validate feelings and make them more tangible.
  • Conversations reflect on how languishing is part of the human condition and may be evolutionarily adaptive, prompting reflection and change.
  • Personal anecdotes about languishing include challenges in productivity and recognizing it as a universal experience, albeit with varying baselines.
  • There is curiosity about the etymology of the word 'cursor,' suggesting even moments of stagnation can lead to inquiry, yet not always deemed productive.

Tool: Nurture Potential in Children, “Coach Effect” (03:00:09)

  • Children are like sponges with potential and can become aware of standards through the performance of others.
  • Parents are guided to consider the messages they impart to their children, and how they might be altered or influenced by research and knowledge about potential.
  • Insights from Dr. Becky Kennedy and the natural parenting instincts of the author's wife are highlighted.
  • Through a personal anecdote, the importance of involving children in problem-solving is emphasized, demonstrating that their input can be valuable and empowering.
  • The author describes the "coach effect," which involves asking children for advice on challenges faced by the parents to boost the children's sense of self-efficacy and confidence.
  • The research performed by Lauren Esis Winkler and colleagues supports the idea that giving advice can be more beneficial than receiving it, promoting motivation and self-confidence.
  • The overall message is that children need to feel they matter beyond performance metrics, and by acting as coaches rather than directives, parents can nurture their children's potential.

Additional Topics Covered in the Video

  • The video covers various subjects, including the potential of both children and adults, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, procrastination, creativity, authenticity blind spots, and more.
  • The discussion also touches upon the personal experiences and careers of the speakers, acknowledging their long-standing dedication to their respective fields and the importance of reaching outside one's comfort zone.
  • Themes of ongoing learning, teaching, and contribution to the field of science and understanding of human behavior are prevalent.
  • The conversation concludes with expressions of mutual respect and the consideration of future collaborative ventures between the speakers.

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