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Legendary Psychologists: Adam Grant

In the realm of psychology, there are few who have managed to bridge the gap between academia and the public as effectively as Adam Grant. Known for his thought-provoking research, books, and speeches, about topics such as originality, generosity, and critical thinking, Grant has risen to prominence as a leading authority in both the fields of organizational psychology and personal development.

Adam Grant Profile:

A headshot show psychologist Adam Grant. This photo was used as a profile picture in Balanced Achievement's article "Legendary Psychologists: Adam Grant".

Date of birth: August 13, 1981
Occupation: Psychologist, Author & Professor
Areas of Focus: Organizational Psychology & Success

The Life of Adam Grant:

At the intersection of psychology and personal development stands a towering figure named Adam Grant. Known for his groundbreaking work in organizational psychology, Grant’s rapid rise to prominence is a testament to his intellect, determination, and commitment to improving the way humans work and live. His journey, though not long in years, is rich in achievements and insights, making his story a fascinating one to explore.

Born on August 13, 1981, in the quiet township of West Bloomfield, Michigan, Grant’s early years were characterized by a nurturing environment provided by his father and mother, who worked as a lawyer and teacher respectively. His childhood in the Detroit suburbs was not only marked by academic pursuits but also athletic accomplishments. In high school, he was recognized as an All-American in diving and selected to the USA Junior Olympic Dive Team. This early taste of success, born from dedication and intelligent effort, would later mirror his approach in his professional careers.

Grant’s academic journey led him to two prestigious institutions: Harvard University, where he completed his Bachelor of Arts degree, with the highest honors of magna cum laude, and then the University of Michigan, where he earned his Ph.D. in organizational psychology in less than three years. It was during graduate school, when he would marry his wife, Allison. The couple now shares the joys and challenges of parenting two daughters and a son.

Before embarking on a career in academia, Grant held a diverse collection of jobs, including as the advertising director at a publishing company and even a professional magician. This early career exploration undoubtedly enriched his perspective, imbuing him with a unique understanding of different work environments and their psychological impacts.

Grant’s career working in academia first took flight when he was hired as an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School in 2007. Then, two years later, he joined the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania as an associate professor, becoming the prestigious institution’s youngest tenured faculty member at just age 28-years-old.

Despite this quick rise to success, Grant’s early days at Wharton were fraught with anxiety, especially when it came to public speaking and teaching. His nerves were such an issue that students would often comment about his nervousness when filling out teacher evaluations. Grant, however, did not let this challenge deter him. Instead, he took a cue from his diving days and approached this issue with the same strategy that brought him success in the pool. He tells us of this time:

I guess I took a little cue out of my diving days. I said, Okay, when I started diving I was really awful. What did I do? I did as many reps as possible every day… That meant I’m going to go and get in front of as many audiences as I can. So I actually started volunteering to give guest lectures for other people’s classes, and forced myself into a situation where I would have to be on a stage every day. I would have to give multiple talks on the same topic. I would then have to write new talks. I think physiologically you can only sustain anxiety for so many hours at a time, right? And eventually it started to fade a little bit. I started to get a little more comfortable.”

An image shows Adam Grant's first published book, "Give and Take." This photo is used for decorative purposes in Balanced Achievement's biographical article on Adam Grant.Once he found his way as a speaker and teacher, Grant truly began his rise to national and global prominence by publishing his first book, “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success”, in 2013. This work introduced a fresh perspective on achieving success, capturing the attention of readers worldwide. Yet, his status as an icon was truly cemented in 2016, as the now celebrated psychologist achieved a pair of monumental milestones. Not only did his book “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World” reach #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List, but he also delivered his first buzz worthy TED Talk, “The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers”, which has since been viewed over 20 million times.

Since the monumental year, Grant’s status as a legendary psychologist has only continued to grow, thanks to two new best-selling books, “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy” and “Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know”, and three more Ted Talks, “Are You a Giver or a Taker?”, “What Frogs in Hot Water can Teach us about Thinking Again”, and “How to Stop Languishing and Start Finding Flow”.

Still, only in his early forties, there’s no doubting the fact that Adam Grant is just at the beginning of a monumental career. Today, he continues to teach at Wharton, where he has been ranked as the school’s top-rated professor for seven straight years. He writes for the New York Times and hosts two Ted Podcasts, ReThinking and Work Life. The iconic psychologist will also publish his next book “Hidden Potential: The Science of Achieving Greater Things” on October 24th, 2023.

3 of Adam Grant’s Most Important Teachings:

Adam Grant is widely recognized as one of the world’s most influential psychologists and a thought leader in the realm of success and business. Collectively, his books have sold over 45 million copies and his Ted Talks have been viewed over 35 million times. His work has garnered him numerous scholarly achievements, and his ideas have helped innumerable people improve the quality of their lives. While his teachings on originality, generosity, and critical thinking only scratch the surface of Grant’s transformational wisdom, they are certainly some of his most important:

Changing the World with Originality:

In his book “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World”, Adam Grant explores how most major breakthroughs in our world, across all professional fields and areas of life, are only made by the individuals who dare to think differently. By those who dare to think originally. If we aspire to not only conceptualize novel concepts, policies, and products, but also to change the world by brining those ideas to life, we’ll have to approach with process with originality and aim for excellence. The famed psychologist gave us a glimpse of what being an original is all about in his celebrated 2016 Ted Talk “The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers”:

There are a number of strategies that we can utilize to create the revolutionary levels of success enjoyed by originals. For example, we can avoid groupthink and start generating new ideas by surrounding ourselves with diverse groups of people. We can utilize the practice of strategic procrastination by taking breaks from our work so ideas and tasks have time to incubate in our minds. And ultimately, by beginning to live our lives as originals, we can overcome the fear of failure, challenge the status quo, and transform the world by achieving success authentically. Grant reminds us:

Originality is not a fixed trait. It is a free choice… I define originals as individuals who go beyond dreaming up the ideas and take initiative to make their vision a reality… Originality brings more bumps in the road, yet leaves us with more happiness and a greater sense of meaning.”

The Transformational Power of Rethinking:

Adam Grant delves into the transformative power of rethinking our beliefs, ideas, and assumptions in “Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know.” Throughout the pages of the best-selling book, the celebrated psychologist argues that the key to thriving in our rapidly changing world lies not just in thinking differently, but also in having the courage to think again. If we aim to solve complex problems, adapt to new situations, and foster innovation, Grant tells us, we must embrace the process of rethinking:

Rethinking is a skill set, but it’s also a mindset. We already have many of the mental tools we need. We just have to remember to get them out of the shed and remove the rust.”

There are several strategies that we can employ to enhance our mental agility, as highlighted by Grant. For instance, we can cultivate an actively open-minded approach, treating our opinions as hypotheses to be tested rather than unshakable truths. We can practice humility, acknowledging the possibility that we might be wrong and seeking out alternative perspectives. We can also create environments of psychological safety where we feel comfortable enough to have our views challenged by others. By adopting these strategies, we can overcome our biases, question conventional ways of thinking, and transform our personal and professional lives. Grant proclaims:

If knowledge is power, knowing what we don’t know is wisdom.”

Achieving Professionally by Giving to Others:

In his groundbreaking book “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success”, Adam Grant uncovers the profound influence reciprocity styles can have on professional success. He tells us that the world is composed of three types of people: givers, takers, and matchers. Remarkably, givers, who prioritize others’ interests, often emerge as the most and least successful. Therefore, if we aspire to achieve professionally, while fostering a culture of generosity and collaboration, we can aim to effectively adopt the aspects of a givers’ mindset that bring success. Grant further introduced us to the idea in his insightful Ted Talk, ‘Are You a Giver or a Taker?’:

There are several tactics we can utilize to begin enjoying the success that comes from giving. For instance, we can build broad and fruitful networks based on goodwill and paying it forward. We can practice ‘powerless communication’, revealing our weaknesses to become more effective communicators. We can also align our ambition with others’ best interests, maintaining a high level of self-interest while also caring for others’ needs. Best of all, we can enjoy more meaningful levels of success by helping others succeed as we ourselves prosper. Grant tells us:

The most meaningful way to succeed is to help others succeed.”

Inspirational Adam Grant Quotes:

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”

There’s a fine line between heroic persistence and foolish stubbornness. Sometimes the best kind of grit is gritting our teeth and turning around”

 The purpose of learning isn’t to affirm our beliefs; it’s to evolve our beliefs.”

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