In a recent live taping of the WorkLife With Adam Grant podcast, Grant – a leading expert on how we can find motivation and meaning – sat down with Revisionist History’s Malcolm Gladwell for a refreshing, modern debate. Here are three key takeaways from their discussion.
What does it take to be a high performer? How much does environment and “fit” affect enjoyment?
In disucssing the concept of environmental “fit,” Gladwell related to the sport of basketball. Basketball, he shared, is a sport where talent can matter most and coaching or organizational fit can matter least. For example, it doesn’t seem to matter which teammates surround LeBron James; James’ talent tends to take him to the NBA playoffs. The reverse is also true for great coaches. Players who excel on a well-coached team, in a well-oiled environment, often fail when traded to a new team, or new environment.
A recent study by Chad Hartnell showed that the more you misfit, the more you contribute. Put simply, task-oriented organizations are high efficiency and high productivity. They’re all about getting stuff done. Relationship-oriented organizations are more community oriented. They’re all about family. The two are independent. Some organizations might be both, but oftentimes organizations that maximize in one don’t in the other. Hartnell found that if you are bringing in a leader at the C-suite of a more task-focused organization, you’ll find that one who is relationship-oriented will add more value. This is because the two are not redundant and instead complementary.
At one point during their conversation, Grant asked Gladwell, “If you were the CEO of a large company, what are the first policies you would either kill or create that would change the way work life is experienced in your organization?”
Referring to his book The Tipping Point, Gladwell said one of the first policies he would instate is the concept of keeping groups to under 150 participants. This would keep sections of the company small and independent. “I just think people enjoy themselves so much more when they know who they are working with,” noted Gladwell.
That extra element, that special bond, is powerful. Much of what people do can be accomplished if they are content. And, usually, those things can be accomplished in a fraction of the time when that is true. The concept and notion of an interesting idea is simply that it has not been done before: It’s not boring.
Gladwell: “You can’t size up a car on a test drive.”
Finally, Grant and Gladwell discussed the book David and Goliath and the perceived notion that one should always root for the underdog, which Gladwell contradicts. Rooting for the favorite, according to him, is the only truly empathetic position to take. Why? Because rooting for the underdog is a form of moral weakness.
In explaining his reasoning, Gladwell shared, “So, two people are competing. One person is expected to win. One person is not expected to win. If the person who is not expected to win doesn’t win, they’re mildly disappointed, but not massively disappointed… because they didn’t expect to win. If the person who is expected to win doesn’t win, they’re massively disappointed because the gap between their expectation and reality is enormous.”
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