The lesson, in Grant’s mind, is simple: Don’t be afraid to experiment. “If you build a culture of learning, people will recognize that you're going to try lots of things. Sometimes they'll be an early beneficiary of a great opportunity. Other times, they’ll be an early victim of a new practice that we decide to throw out the window very quickly.” Be transparent with your employees, and they’ll welcome the opportunity to learn and progress together.
Think Like a Scientist
Grant refers to the work of his colleague, Phil Tetlock, in understanding how each of us approaches interaction in the workplace, breaking the majority of employees into three categories:
- Preachers, who spend a lot of time defending their views and evangelizing them.
- Prosecutors, who are constantly challenging the views of others, trying to change their minds.
- Politicians, who only engage with people if they already agree with their views.
In each instance, the person has already concluded that they are right, and the opposing stance is wrong. What Grant proposes, instead, is approaching discussions like a scientist. “Thinking like a scientist means you don't let your ideas become your identity. That you are as motivated to look for reasons why you might be wrong as you are to search for reasons why you must be right. And you surround yourself with people who challenge your thought process.”
Structuring Unstructured Time
The pandemic has opened us up to new forms of communication with our colleagues, but that’s had some unintended consequences. Grant explains, “Everybody is doing a good job at staying in touch with their strongest ties, their immediate team, but what we've lost is the creative collisions with weaker ties. People who travel in different circles, meet different people, know different things, and are much more likely to open up opportunities for learning—and also for creativity and innovation.”
While these so-called “watercooler moments” are often seen as spontaneous, their defining quality is actually their informality—and that can be replicated by organizing unstructured time. Discussing his own work as a professor, Grant notes that certain students rarely ask for time on his calendar. But by blocking out his office hours, he lowers the barrier to entry, and diversifies the number of students he’s able to learn from and help.
“When you get an hour of unstructured time once a month with a senior person, you ask thoughtful questions. You engage that person in on-the-spot mentoring.” By making time for spontaneous moments of partnership, you not only share tacit knowledge, you also create learning opportunities about what skills an employee wants to develop, while also discovering existing skills that may have otherwise remained unearthed. That, in turn, leads to a more collaborative company culture.