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Wharton professor, author of GIVE AND TAKE and ORIGINALS
Adam is the youngest tenured and highest-rated professor at Wharton. He wrote the NYT best-selling book "Give and Take," which showcases his research on success, work motivation, and giving behaviors.

Additionally, Adam Grant is a NYT opinion writer on work and psychology and has served as a consultant for Google, the NFL, Pixar, Apple, Goldman Sachs, the United Nations, and the US army and navy.
This Q&A took place between 7/31/15 and 8/6/15. Unanswered questions have been hidden
16 questions
Author of DRIVE, TO SELL IS HUMAN, and other fine books.
In the last decade or so, behavioral science has gone mainstream. Corporations and governments alike are using findings from social psychology, behavioral economics, and other fields to run companies and design public policy. That seems heartening -- or, at least, sensible. But I wonder: What's the dark side of this trend? What are we missing? What, in 10 years, will we regret?
Wharton professor, author of GIVE AND TAKE and ORIGINALS
On balance, I think this is a good thing-- organizations are more effective when leaders are guided less by intuition and more by data. But there are plenty of landmines and unintended negative consequences, like:

1. Humility: data can fuel dangerous levels of overconfidence. In 10 years, we will regret failing to cultivate what Bob Sutton calls an attitude of wisdom: acting on the best information you have while doubting what you know. I'd love to see leaders put confidence intervals on their data-driven conclusions, to (a) acknowledge how much uncertainty really marks decisions, and (b) put their skills to the test. As the old saying goes, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who have been humbled, and those who are about to be.

2. The "not-invented here" syndrome: many leaders are rejecting evidence because it doesn't come from their environments, overlooking that many principles of human behavior generalize beautifully from one setting to another.

3. What we struggle to measure, or don't think to measure, won't get noticed. Case in point: there are a lot of companies trying to reduce absenteeism, never tracking the costs of presenteeism (working while sick, which can spread diseases and cause errors). See
If we extrapolate from previous generations, ours must have attitudes that our grandchildren will find horrible, and vice versa. If we grant that our generation is "enlightened" as far as the usual suspects (i.e. gay marriage, gender equality), then what are our blind spots? What are non-controversial practices today that will be viewed as unbelievably backwards in a few generations?

(I got this question from this tweet by Benedict Evans:
Wharton professor, author of GIVE AND TAKE and ORIGINALS
Here are a few taken-for-granted features of our lifestyles today that might be viewed as unenlightened (if not downright backward) in a few generations:

(1) Sleeping: If we didn't need it, our lives would be roughly 33% longer, all without any changes to our ability to prevent and treat diseases. It's a failure of modern medicine that we haven't been able to eliminate the need for sleep. Surely there's another way to recharge our brains and our bodies. (Confession: I find sleep dreadfully boring and have never, ever felt better after taking a nap.)

(2) Eating: I’m still waiting for someone to make good on Willy Wonka’s promise of a three-course meal in a single stick of chewing gum. Why there isn't a way to experience the flavor of steak without slaughtering a cow is beyond me.

(3) Nuclear families: children have better opportunities for good role models when they're reared not only by parents, but also by grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins. Rather than putting all our eggs in one or two baskets, we'll have the good sense to expand the family unit.

(4) Guns: Australian comedian Jim Jefferies recently explained why other countries think U.S. gun laws are crazy. It was as insightful as it was hilarious and vulgar:
Researcher @ Harvard | Parlio community manager
Thank you for your time Professor Grant!

People who go to Wharton, work at Google, Apple, the UN, NFL players are already extremely motivated people. I'm interested in how to motivate people (especially young people) who do not come from environments that place a premium on personal and professional success. How would you recommend for such individuals to self-motivate to invest effort into their own success? Thank you!
Wharton professor, author of GIVE AND TAKE and ORIGINALS
Dan Pink nailed it in Drive: give them autonomy, create opportunities for them to experience mastery, and help them identify a sense of purpose.

I'd also look at Paul Tough's book How Children Succeed, and Angela Duckworth's forthcoming book on grit. They're full of evidence-based practices for enabling young people to achieve personal and professional success.

Finally, check out research by Nicole Stephens at Kellogg, who has designed a one-hour workshop that erases the achievement disadvantage of first-generation college students. Freshmen attend a panel where their more experienced peers talk about the challenges they faced in transitioning to college. Hearing this, freshmen realize they're not alone and become more comfortable asking for help. I think we could do a much better job encouraging students to share these kinds of experiences with each other, and support each other.
You've written about how flawed the employer<>employee interview process is at most companies. What are some improvements you'd recommend to produce better results for both sides?
Wharton professor, author of GIVE AND TAKE and ORIGINALS
1. Rely less on interviews and more on work samples—actual examples of job-relevant tasks that applicants have done. It might be a report they created, a presentation they delivered, or a software program they wrote. It could be customer satisfaction, employee retention rates, or patents filed. When data on past performance aren’t available, create simulations. If you’re hiring salespeople, ask them to sell you something. If you’re looking for people who can thrive under pressure, put them in a stressful situation and see how they respond. If you want leaders, challenge them to create a vision and mobilize a group of strangers to follow them.

2. Change how you interview. We have a century of evidence that typical job interviews are terrible predictors of performance. If you have to conduct them, recognize that good job interviews are a lot like standardized tests. Managers can dramatically improve the accuracy of their interviews by (a) identifying relevant questions in advance, (b) asking every applicant the same kinds of questions, and (c) developing an answer key to score their responses. The answer key is not difficult to create: pose your questions to current employees, and see how stars and low performers respond differently.

3. Focus on screening out, not screening in. Rick Jacobs finds that the costs of a bad hire are often double to triple the benefits of a good hire. It’s challenging to reduce your false positive rate and your false negative rate at the same time—if you’re going to prioritize one, I’d focus on reducing false positives. Every once in a while, you’ll miss a stellar candidate, but that will usually be less painful than making a big bet on the wrong candidate.

For a summary of the data behind the points above, and more on evidence-based job interviews, see
Who do you consider the most influential person alive today? Do you believe that her/his influence is good or bad?
Wharton professor, author of GIVE AND TAKE and ORIGINALS
Justin Bieber, naturally.

If we define influence as the ability to change other people's attitudes and actions, I might put my money on J.K. Rowling.

1. Harry Potter has reached more people than any other book series in history (unless you count the Bible as a series). Never mind the movies, merchandising, and other sources of contact.

2. It affects them when they're young and impressionable-- and has inspired an entire generation to read, opening the door to many other avenues for education.

3. I think her influence has been enormously positive. Fascinating studies suggest that reading fiction improves empathy-- and reading Harry Potter in particular reduces prejudice. See and

4. In my next book, Originals, I cover some striking evidence that we can trace the innovation rates of entire societies to children's literature.

Ms. Rowling, the world would be a better place if you kept writing Harry Potter books...
MBA Candidate at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
UPenn and other prestigious universities have recently been in the press because of students who have committed suicide ("Campus Suicide and the Pressure of Perfection" - How can prestigious, high-performance organizations change their cultures to prevent future tragedies?
Wharton professor, author of GIVE AND TAKE and ORIGINALS
This has been devastating. I had an exceptional student commit suicide in 2010, and I still ruminate regularly about where I failed and what can be done differently moving forward.

For starters, I think we should teach students self-compassion, not self-esteem. See Kristin Neff's research on being as kind to yourself as you would be to a friend:

Honestly, though, I think the real problem starts with parents. The pressure that many students face beginning in early childhood is unconscionable to me.
Founder, 10 TRAITS Leadership Institute; UN Virtual Mentor
Hi Adam: Women who want to have a better "work/life balance" are calling for a four-hour workday. Since women now represent 67-75% of students who graduate college, are business leaders taking note of this emerging trend, along with women's call for setting leadership quotas of 40% or more for women in the workplace, the boardroom, and even the executive suite?
Wharton professor, author of GIVE AND TAKE and ORIGINALS
I do think business leaders are starting to embrace a desire for life outside work. I was the external consultant on a Goldman Sachs project to enrich the experiences of junior investment bankers, and I was not prepared for how enthusiastically leaders responded to the idea of eliminating work on Saturdays.

That said, without creative arrangements such as job-sharing, it's hard to imagine much meaningful getting done in just four hours a day. (Sometimes it takes me that long just to get through my emails!) I think the four-hour workday is a mistake; I'd rather see longer days and shorter work weeks.

For example, if the goal is to work 20 hours a week, I'd stack those in two 10-hour days, and give people five days off each week. We humans are much more skilled at serial processing than parallel processing. Two good days of focused work, to me, are worth more than four of part-time work. This would also free people up for more varied uses of leisure time-- and might leave many people looking forward to work.

I'm torn on quotas. I strongly believe that we'd all be better off if more women ran organizations, and I'm willing to take drastic measures to get to equality. But like with affirmative action, critics often ask how long we should tolerate shifting standards and reverse discrimination.

If we do go the quota route, we should be mindful of the fact that the evidence paints a bleak picture of their effects on corporate boards in Norway (see below). Of course, the ends may well justify the means over time.
Adam thank you for your time here. I was wondering whether or not you think the types of giving relationships that lead to success fundamentally undermine the meritocratic nature of our economy ? Or, alternatively, do they redefine it ?
Wharton professor, author of GIVE AND TAKE and ORIGINALS
If we only reward self-interest, we run the risk of creating a zero-sum system. I think Bill Gates captured it perfectly when he identified two great forces of human nature: self-interest and caring for others. Sustainable meritocracy means rewarding people who balance and integrate the two, because their success makes others more successful.
Audience Engagement Consultant, digital strategy specialist
Possibly an impudent question, but as someone who has struggled with the prospect of getting an MBA - after an MSJ (I went to Kellogg's Media Management program as well) - why do you encourage individuals to go to that particular graduate school?

The value has always seemed to lie in the networking rather than the education, and networking is something one can usually do for free / lower cost than $100k/year if she's smart/aggressive about it.
Wharton professor, author of GIVE AND TAKE and ORIGINALS
MBA education is changing under our feet. Instead of studying cases about the success of one lucky company, there's a growing premium on teaching evidence. I think this has markedly increased the value of the education: data-driven frameworks result in better decisions.

Another reason to consider an MBA is the knowing-doing gap. As Jeff Pfeffer and Bob Sutton have pointed out, one of the greatest barriers to success is failing to put your understanding into action. An MBA is a two-year opportunity to step outside your comfort zone and try out unfamiliar behaviors in a low-risk environment.

Finally, I'm struck by how many students change their career aspirations and plans over the course of business school. Having time away from work to reflect on their experiences, with a group of peers doing the same, seems quite valuable in stimulating novel ideas and cultivating the courage to try something different.
Product Guy / Fellow @ Harvard Ash Center
Some critics of employees performance reviews claim that they end up rewarding the employees that are the most narcissistic and self-promoting, who aren't necessarily the best performing. Do you agree with this statement?

Are their any innovative performance measuring tools/practices that recently captured your attention?

What is your advise to early stage startup companies on how to best measure the performance of their employees?
Wharton professor, author of GIVE AND TAKE and ORIGINALS
I think performance reviews are like Churchill's comment about democracy: the worst system... except all others.

The flaws and biases in performance evaluations have been well-documented; they often reward employees who excel at kissing up (and at hiding the time they spend kicking down).

The best reinvention that I've seen is Deloitte's recent effort to cut 2 million hours down to 4 simple questions:

For early-stage startups, I would try Deloitte's questions and triangulate as many objective measures of both behaviors and results as possible. For salespeople, I'd measure calls and revenues; for engineers, quality, quantity, and creativity of output; for managers, team results and employee retention and promotion rates.
Can you talk about the reception you've gotten at corporations when you propose specific bias interruption ideas? Are there characteristics shared by organisations that are open and supportive, versus those that give superficial lip service to the ideas of diversity, but display entrenched resistance change?
Wharton professor, author of GIVE AND TAKE and ORIGINALS
I've been pleasantly surprised by how receptive leaders are-- but that may be a selection bias, in that I'm usually sharing these ideas with people who have asked for help in this area. I think Sheryl Sandberg has fundamentally changed the conversation with Lean In. Leaders worldwide (especially male CEOs) are more aware of their biases and more committed to embracing diversity.

In my experience, the leaders that are more receptive seem to be (a) less insecure, (b) women, (c) men with daughters, and (d) men who have witnessed diversity problems in their own organizations.

My favorite idea for bias interruption that hasn't become popular yet is to put sociometric sensors in meetings. You can literally track who's dominating the conversation, and it seems like an elegant and powerful way to balance things out (i.e., get white men to listen more). See
Professor at NYU-Stern School of Business
Adam, your work shows that when we look at individuals, the givers are disproportionately found at the top and the bottom. What about for companies? Do companies that commit to ethics, cooperation, or a generally pro-social style (pick whichever variable you like) tend to show up at the top and bottom financially? Do nice companies finish first, or last, or first and last? Or does it depend on the industry?
Wharton professor, author of GIVE AND TAKE and ORIGINALS
The data on this question have been very mixed. On the one hand, there are plenty of studies suggesting that companies with cultures that emphasize ethics, respect, and collaboration perform better: they excel at attracting, motivating, and retaining talented employees, make a better impression on customers, and tend to prioritize long-term impact over short-term targets. On the other hand, there's also a solid body of evidence that these same practices can reduce efficiency and distract attention from the bottom line. The juxtaposition of benefits and costs leaves me thinking that giving companies, like giving individuals, do tend to hit the extremes of success and failure.

One of the more intriguing examples is Malden Mills: after the company's factory burned down, CEO Aaron Feuerstein spent $25 million to keep paying all 3,000 employees for six months-- with benefits-- during the rebuilding. It cost him his job and the company went bankrupt, only to rise again due in part to the loyalty engendered... and then fail again.

The paradox that giving amplifies success and failure is especially salient in the literature on corporate social responsibility and philanthropy. For a review, see Leveraging Corporate Responsibility by C.B. Bhattacharya, Sankar Sen, and Daniel Korschun.
What are 3 questions you'd ask to deeply get to know how a person thinks?
Wharton professor, author of GIVE AND TAKE and ORIGINALS
(1) That question would actually be at the top of my list. As Warren Berger eloquently pointed out in A More Beautiful Question, we can often learn more about people from the questions they ask than the answers they give. I'd love to see what three questions people choose. That leaves me with two more...

(2) Who do you admire most?

(3) What would you do if you found out that one of your core beliefs was wrong?
(I think ego defensiveness and self-righteousness are at the heart of many social problems. For a chilling account, see Mistakes Were Made, But Not By Me by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.)
What do you think is preferable in measuring success? To dedicate full effort solely towards what we're passionate about or also be open towards various opportunities whilst maintaining focus?
Wharton professor, author of GIVE AND TAKE and ORIGINALS


The upside of passion is intense effort, and the downside is tunnel vision. Openness is the opposite: it leaves us less focused but improves our peripheral vision.

Peter Gollwitzer's research suggests that openness might be optimal at the beginning of projects, so we make wise choices, and passion might become more effective once we've committed to a course of action.
How optimistic are you about people becoming successful givers when they usually act as a taker, matcher, or selfless giver?

Do you think that kind of change can happen in a sustained, consistent way on an individual level? Or does it depend on institutions and situations?

Or is it hard to say without more research?

Thank you for doing this Q and A.
Wharton professor, author of GIVE AND TAKE and ORIGINALS
We need much more research on this, but my sense is that the easiest shift is from selfless to successful giving. It involves being more thoughtful about three everyday choices:

1. Who you help. Over time, givers become cautious with takers so you don't, and make tradeoffs easier by prioritizing who matters most to you (for me, it's family first, students second, colleagues third, and everyone else fourth).

2. How you help. Successful givers learn to be specialists, not generalists, by focusing on one or two kinds of contributions that they enjoy and make skillfully. This increases their ability to have a unique impact, makes giving more sustainable, and discourages others from bothering them with requests that don't fit their interests and expertise. (My two favorite forms of giving are sharing evidence about work and psychology, and making introductions between two people who could benefit from knowing each other.)

3. When you help. I've watched many givers become more vigilant about blocking time in their calendar to get their own work done, setting aside separate windows to assist others.

I think changing from taker or matcher to giver is more challenging, as it requires a shift not just in daily habits, but in more basic intentions toward others and assumptions about the world. That said, in experiments with Sharon Arieli and Lilach Sagiv, I found that we could increase giver values for at least six weeks just by asking people to reflect on why helping others was important to them and persuade others that they should give more. (They ended up getting convinced to give by the person they like and trust most: themselves.)

Overall, the good news is that we all have moments of giving, taking, and matching-- and these are choices that we make in every single interaction. A person's default style might not change overnight, but it's quite feasible to figure out what drives that person to give in particular ways to particular people in particular roles-- and then nudge a bit more giving.
The worst 'talents of big finance driven away by Fintech & co and permeating the economy, isn't that most frightening to you?
Wharton professor, author of GIVE AND TAKE and ORIGINALS
It's much more frightening to me that many of our brightest minds are choosing finance over biotechnology and healthcare.