Google's favourite Psychologist Has Some Great Advice About Motivation

Adam Grant Wharton

Psychologist Adam Grant gives some excellent and unconventional advice in a cover story in The New York Times Magazine.

He says “the greatest untapped source of motivation” is focusing on how our work contributes to other people, as opposed to the obvious levers of self-interest. 

This is coming from the youngest-tenured and best-rated professor at Wharton. According to Google’s “people analytics” head Prasad Setty, he’s the person the company turns to Grant when “we are thinking about big problems we are trying to solve.” 

Here are some further tips from the profile: 

Helping people isn’t the enemy of productivity, it enhances it.

When most people get to work and see an inbox full of 300 unopened emails, they feel exasperated and put upon. The approach Grant takes, and advises, is to frame it differently. 

You don’t get much done when thinking about “answering 300 emails.” It’s much easier when you think about how it will help the recipient. So each time you send off an email, you feel good about yourself, and the work is of higher quality. 

It works better than putting energy and time into figuring out whom to ignore. Deciding whether or not to help out is often an unnecessary mental lag. Short favours cost little but pay off in the long run. 

Even a basic reminder of how an activity helps other vastly improves performance.

One of Grant’s earliest studies was at a call centre that looked for donations for scholarships. A 10-minute talk from a student to call centre workers on how one of the scholarships had completely changed his life had an incredible impact on performance.

A month later, workers still used the same script, but were on the phone 142 per cent longer and bringing in 171 per cent more revenue. Even letters from grateful people significantly increased fundraising. 

The workers didn’t specifically recognise this motivation, many actually discounted it, but the results speak for themselves, and held up after the study was repeated five times.

In a later study, Grant put up two different signs at a hand-washing station at a hospital. One focused on how doctors or nurses could catch diseases if they were lax. Another reminded them that patients could. The latter increased soap and hand sanitizer use by 45 per cent. 

Read more at the New York Times >

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