Adam Grant: Creating a Culture to be Original
March 26, 2019
Adam Grant, professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania specializing in organizational psychology, sits down with Carly. He talks about the importance of problem-raising for problem-solving, how to be an original, and creating an organizational culture around leadership.
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Carly Fiorina: I'm Carly Fiorina, and this is By Example. On this podcast, we sit down with leaders of all types to explore examples of real leadership and the qualities of all great problem solvers. I think we get really confused about what leadership is. On By Example, we lift up the real leaders, people who are focused on changing the order of things for the better and solving real problems that are right in front of them, leading by example. Adam Grant is a different kind of guest for By Example. I've never had a professor on before, and Adam Grant is a professor of organizational psychology, which is a fancy way of saying that he studies people in organizations and how organizations respond because of the way people respond. Carly Fiorina: You may have heard of Adam Grant because he's authored books like Originals. He's host of his own podcast called WorkLife. I was interested in talking to Adam because we come at the subject of leadership from different places. I from experience, Adam from academia and clinical observation. As you'll hear, however, while we start from different places, we arrive at the same place over and over and over again. I honestly think we were both a bit surprised by how simpatico we were. Have a listen. I hope you enjoy the conversation with Adam Grant. Well, Adam, I am really delighted to have you on the podcast today. Actually, you're the first professor that I've had on. Adam Grant: Maybe the last. Carly Fiorina: I doubt it, but, you know, when I first got my MBA, I didn't know what organizational psychology was, but it turned out to be my absolute favorite class and my favorite professor because somehow it was that class that got me focused on the reality that business is all about people. It's all about people. In fact, when I wrote my first book, which was about my time in business, I made the observation that we think about business as products and profits and results, but people produce all those things. If you want to be successful in business, you better understand people and how to make them more effective, either as individuals or as teams. For those people who don't know what organizational psychology is and who don't know what you do as a professor, we'll get to you as a TED talker and a bestselling author in a moment, explain to our listeners a little bit about organizational psychology and why it's important. Adam Grant: Sure. I think I'm preaching to the choir here because you just captured why I think it's so important. In some ways, my job is to study other people's jobs and try to figure out how to fix them. I spend a lot of my time trying to make work just suck a little bit less. In some cases, that means I'll go into an organization and do observations and interviews and surveys to try to figure out how people can make better decisions, improve their culture, innovate more, and make a team more collaborative. My favorite thing to do actually is to go into a company and actually design experiments where we try to change something that's broken and then see whether we can improve motivation and meaning but also productivity and creativity. Carly Fiorina: You know, it's so interesting because, while you and I come at this from different lenses and different vantage points, I am a practitioner of business, you are someone who observes and prescribes for business, and obviously you understand it very well, but one of the things that I talk about a lot and have in my business career, in my nonprofit career, and now in my upcoming book, Find Your Way, is that leadership is actually all about problem solving. In this way, it differs from management. Managers frequently toe the line, stick in their lane, follow the process. It doesn't make them bad people, but it is why problems fester so often in organizations because people can't or won't actually change the order of things for the better and challenge the status quo in order to solve the problems right in front of them. Talk to us a little bit about, in all of your observations, why is it so hard for people to challenge the way things are, champion something new, actually solve a problem? Adam Grant: Well, I think you're exactly right. Leaders are supposed to be problem solvers, and I've been stunned by the number of leaders who take that mean something that really stands in the way of problem solving. Carly Fiorina: In my book, they're not really leaders. They just have a title that suggests they might be one. Adam Grant: I think that's right. Often, they're in a position of authority, and they're not leading effectively. You know, Carly, one of the things I've noticed over and over again when I go into an organization is I hear so many leaders say, "Don't bring me problems. Bring me solutions." That drives me crazy because if you create a culture where people can only speak up when they know the solution, you're never going to hear about the biggest problems. Carly Fiorina: That's right. Adam Grant: They're too hard for any one person to solve or too complex. I get why leaders say this. I realize you don't want people to be whining and complaining all the time, but I actually think that the beginning of creating a problem solving culture is creating a problem raising culture, where it's safe to say, "Here's something that's broken," even if you have no idea what to do about it. Carly Fiorina: I think that's so true. You know, people ask me, "How did you get from secretary to CEO?" The truth is I didn't have some plan to become a CEO. What I did was solve problems. What was so interesting to me, from the very bottom of the totem pole, is everywhere I looked, I saw problems, and everybody knew what the problems were, and everybody talked about the problems, but they frequently talked about them around the water cooler instead of in the boss' office. What I discovered was that not only did everybody talk about the problem, not only did everybody know about the problem, but actually the people closest to the problem so often knew what would make it better, but they didn't necessarily believe that it was their job to raise how to make it better or that they get rewarded for raising how to make it better, and so they just didn't. Often, all people needed was an opportunity to collaborate, the courage to take the heat, the character to keep going when the going got tough, and the imagination to sort of see the possibilities in a circumstance that, actually, even though this problem has festered for a long time, there is a possibility to solve it. Do you observe that in cultures where people see it, they know it, they talk about it, and yet they don't do anything about it? Adam Grant: Yeah, all the time. I think one of the big barriers is that fear, that you don't want to cut the boss' throat or you don't want to rock the boat. Even worse than that, the data suggests is just a sense of futility. Maybe nothing bad will happen if I speak up about a problem, but I don't think anyone's going to do anything about it, so why should I bother to try? It's one of the reasons I love to see leaders go and spread examples of innovations that have succeeded, of problems that have been raised and really listened to. I think it's pretty easy to do. I think in many companies, and not just in businesses, in workplaces of all kinds, there are what Chip and Dan Heath would call bright spots, where even if the culture is mostly dysfunctional, there's probably a pocket of excellence somewhere. I think your job as a leader is to find it and then kind of publicize it so everyone knows it's going on, and that makes it so much easier for other people to say, "Hey, maybe if I speak up, people are really going to take action." Carly Fiorina: I think it's so true that so many people feel helpless or powerless or that it's futile. I think that's true in all kinds of organizations. In some way, I think it's true in our country, that people sort of feel like, "Oh my gosh. We have these huge problems. There's nothing I can do to make anything better." My work now is around lifting leaders up, finding problem solvers, focusing teams and individuals and organizations on how they can build problem solving cultures and problem solvers wherever they are and whatever the problems are. What I always find so encouraging is what happens when people actually get that they can change the order of things for the better or that they do have an opportunity to speak up, it's transforming for people in some ways. When you find those pockets of excellence, Adam, in organizations that you work in, how are the people there different in their outlook, in their emotions from people elsewhere? Adam Grant: Well, the first thing is they are often pretty vocal about the issues they see, but they've added a little humor to it. I think the first time I ever saw it was walking into a call center where somebody had posted a sign that said, "Doing a good job here is like wetting your pants in a dark suit." I was like, "What?" Carly Fiorina: Wow. Adam Grant: Yeah, it ended with, "You get a warm feeling, but no one else notices." Carly Fiorina: That's funny. Adam Grant: It was such a clever way to get the attention of management. It started a whole conversation about how the work could become a little bit less soul crushing. Then, there was an air force base that I came across a few years later where there was a chef doing national security work at the base but basically cooking for the security officers. The chef had posted a sign that said, "Defending freedom one pancake at a time." Carly Fiorina: Those are great. Adam Grant: I look for, in a lot of cases, those people who are willing to say, "Hey, things around here aren't perfect. I don't see a line of sight between my job and the larger mission of the organization. I'm willing to point that out and do something about it." What's interesting to me about those people is when I've studied them, and even when I've talked to some serious innovators, one thing I've noticed is everybody feels some doubt at some point. Carly Fiorina: Of course. Adam Grant: You know, it's not that the people who take action aren't afraid. It's that they say, "Look, I'm afraid of failing, but I'm even more afraid of failing to try." Carly Fiorina: You know, when we talk to people about problem solving and leadership and even if it's in a leadership lab setting or in my upcoming book, the first thing we talk about is courage because the truth is everybody's afraid of something and so many people are afraid of, just as you suggest, I'm afraid of failing. I'm afraid of looking foolish. I'm afraid of getting criticized. I'm afraid of making a mistake. One of the things that I say to organizations all the time is most organizations, as you know, Adam, always say, "We want more innovation," but then, of course, if you want more innovation, you need more risk taking. If you want more risk taking, you have to tolerate more mistake making. That's where the rub is because people get the message that somehow they can't make a mistake. If the culture says, "We don't tolerate mistakes ever," then no one will ever take a risk, and you won't get innovation. People are too afraid to try because they're afraid of screwing up. Adam Grant: It's a huge problem, and I'm sure you've seen it over and over again throughout your career. The study that, for me, captured it the best was an Amy Edmondson study in hospitals. She went into hospital teams, and she surveyed them on psychological safety. Did they feel like they could take a risk without being punished? If they made a mistake, could they tell people? She was really surprised to find that the teams with more psychological safety actually had higher error rates. They were more likely to make medical mistakes. It seemed like maybe if you create too much safety to take risks, then people stop holding each other accountable. They stop double-checking each other's work. Maybe they themselves are less careful. Amy wasn't convinced. She went to the data, and she realized errors are being measured by the teams' own reports. We don't really know how many mistakes they're making. We just know how many they're willing to admit. She got a covert observer to go into the units and record the actual error rates, and the results flipped. The teams that had a lot of psychological safety, they actually reported more errors, but they made fewer because when they disclosed an error, everybody else could learn from it and say, "Okay. We're not going to make the same mistake," whereas when teams lacked that psychological safety, people spent a huge amount of time hiding their mistakes, and then they got repeated over and over again. Carly Fiorina: It's so true. One of the things that I think we use the word failure far too often. It's such a heavy word. Mistakes is a little bit lighter word, but one of the things I'm sure you do as well is to say to people, "Look, if you're going to try something new, if you're going to take a risk, if you're going to innovate, if you're going to solve problems, if you're going to change the order of things for the better, you are going to make mistakes." The goal is not to make the same mistake twice. The goal is to make sure the mistake isn't fatal, but accept that mistakes are part of it. Adam Grant: Yeah, I think that's something that I would love to see more leaders do. I think the challenge is actually making it real. If I could turn the tables on you, I'm really curious. If think back to your HP days, for example, I think one of the biggest challenges that any leader would face in a situation like that is you've done some layoffs, you've asked people to take pay cuts. I know that in a lot of the organizations I've worked with, that creates a culture of fear, where people say, "I'm going to be next, so I've got to focus narrowly on just doing my job as opposed to innovating or thinking creatively." How did you overcome that fear? Carly Fiorina: Well, it's interesting. First, I would say that I made mistake making explicitly part of our conversation right from the beginning. HP, when I arrived, it had stopped growing, basically. Profit was deteriorating. We were losing market share. I mean, it was a company in trouble. Yet, everybody was making more money every year. The metrics were so skewed. We talked about the fact that if we listened to our customers, our customers were telling us, "You're not serving our needs. You're too slow. You're too fat. You're too expensive." I remember someone asking me, "If we're going to be faster, and we're going to be more responsive, aren't we going to make mistakes?" The answer was yes, absolutely we will. Now, when you fast forward through the technology bust, and layoffs and pay cuts are painfully necessary, I needed something else to point to. Carly Fiorina: One of the things we started doing was to measure innovation and to reward innovation and to lift up people who were not only innovating but who were making mistakes in the process. Literally, we would measure how many new ideas are coming forward, how many patents are being produced, how much of our revenue is being generated by products that didn't exist a year ago. We would purposefully lift up people who were doing something new, and we would make an example, not just of their success, but of their mistakes because I think it's the only way you can create a safe environment for people, is to hold up people who have taken advantage of that safe environment and reported a mistake or taken a risk. You're not going to succeed every time. People need to see it to believe it, in other words. You need to measure it if people are going to pay attention to it. Adam Grant: That's interesting because the other thing that I've seen leaders do that we have at least some evidence for is when leaders sort of run into a wall and say, "I just can't get people to believe it." In some cases, I've seen them go out on a limb and just start disclosing their own mistakes. I know it's often risky to be that vulnerable, but I'm curious how you think about that. Is there a right time for leaders [crosstalk 00:17:56] say, "I screwed up"? Carly Fiorina: Yes, of course there is. You know, one of the important elements of leadership, I think, and I know you believe this as well, is humility. We've talked about courage, the requirement to be brave and move forward, but without humility, actually, you don't get collaboration either. If a leader or let's just say a person with position and title actually believes they always have the answers or they don't need anyone else, guess what, they're not going to solve problems because you can not solve problems alone ever. Actually, it turns out that you can't achieve anything worthwhile acting on your own. Even if you're the CEO, even if you have the biggest position and title in the world, I alone can actually never fix it. Carly Fiorina: You have to be humble, and humility requires a leader to say not only, "I screwed up," or, "I made a mistake," but, "I can't do it all by myself, and I don't know it all by myself." You know, Adam, I want to ask you a question about humility specifically, actually, because you may not know this, but you are in my upcoming book. You're in my upcoming book where I talk about humility. You interviewed Shane Battier about humility. Actually, Shane Battier is going to be a guest on this podcast as well. You actually asked him a question, "How do you make your team better when you're not the biggest star?" which led into a whole conversation about humility. Maybe talk a little bit about humility. As our conversation has just mentioned, you're not humble if you can't admit a mistake or admit you need somebody else. Adam Grant: Yeah, I can think of a few leaders who could use that message right now. Carly Fiorina: Well, I would argue they are leaders in title and position, but they're not actually leading. Adam Grant: I happen to agree with you there, so maybe I need to stop calling them leaders. I think humility gets a bad rep. I think that when people talk about humility, it often sounds like weakness. Carly Fiorina: Or false modesty. Adam Grant: Yeah, I think that's a mistake. Actually, I went back and looked up the origin of the word. It turns out it has a Latin root which means from the earth. Carly Fiorina: Interesting. Adam Grant: Which I thought was such a nice way of capturing it. I think humility is just really about being grounded and saying, "Look, I'm not superhuman. I have weaknesses as well as strengths. I need other people to be successful. You know, I do make plenty of mistakes." There are a couple places where I've seen this play out in really interesting ways. One, of course, is with Shane Battier. Shane, he came off the ranks in basketball as a superstar. He was player of the year in high school, player of the year in college, won the national championship at Duke, drafted sixth in the NBA, and then, lo and behold, it turns out that athletically, he's just not at the same level as most NBA stars. You know, people complain he's slow, he can't really dribble. Shane ends up having to figure out other ways to contribute. Adam Grant: There was that great Michael Lewis article about him 10 years ago now called The No Stats All Star, which was all about this weird thing that Shane didn't score a ton of points, he didn't get a lot of rebounds, he didn't block a lot of shots, and yet when he was on the court, his team was statistically a lot more likely to win. That was all about humility. Shane, he didn't have this giant ego to say, "I have to be the guy with the ball. I have to be the one who's leading the team and scoring." It was him saying, "Okay. How can I study all the statistics on Kobe Bryant and figure out where he's worst on the court from a shooting percentage standpoint and then kind of force him over to that spot? Can I dive for all the loose balls?" That kind of humility is what makes any kind of team great. Adam Grant: You know, you can see it in really visible ways in sports, where the egos are often big, but I think we can apply that to any workplace. There's a movement. I'm wondering what you think about this, Carly. There's a movement that we should all have failure resumes. When we write our bios or we create our resumes, they only highlight our successes. I've seen some professors and some managers and bosses who have created CVs where they actually list all the jobs they applied for they didn't get, all the mistakes they made in their career. I wonder, if you think about somebody vying for a leadership role, whether that's in the corporate world or in the political world, would you ever consider doing something like that? Is it too risky? Carly Fiorina: No, I don't think it's too risky. Again, I happen to not like the word failure because I think it suggests something that actually isn't true. When we hear the word failure, it tends to connote that it's fatal. Winston Churchill famously said, "Failure isn't fatal." That's obviously true if we learn from our failures and our mistakes, but I think the point, whether we call it failure or mistakes or things that didn't turn out the way you thought they would or the going got tough, and the going always gets tough, I think what you're talking about is a way of someone revealing: What are the risks I took? What are the mistakes I made? What are the things that didn't work out the way I planned? I actually think that the mistakes, the risks, the times when the going got tough, that reveals who people really are. I've had interesting experiences where I will talk to groups of people, students, let's just say. I've talked to groups of students who have been told their whole lives, "You're the cream of the crop. You're it. You're just it." I've talked to students who've been told all their lives, "You're a mess." Carly Fiorina: The first group of students has had a lot of privilege and entitlement. The second group of students has had a lot of barriers and hurdles they've had to overcome. Without exception, the students who have had to overcome barriers, hurdles, who've had to hear not encouraging things, but discouraging things, come to those sessions better prepared, more thoughtful, more enlightened, and they use the time more effectively. I've concluded that people who've had it, let me just use the term easy, people who aren't able or willing to actually acknowledge when the going got tough or perhaps people who've never had tough going, they are less likely over time to be successful because if you haven't had to pick yourself up and dust yourself off, if you haven't had to reflect on the mistake you've just made and what you've learned, if you haven't had to say to yourself, "You know, that didn't turn out the way I wanted it to, but nevertheless, there are things I can do," if you haven't had to go through that, you're not ready to lead. Adam Grant: Well, that goes to something really interesting, which I think is the question of how to build resilience. Carly Fiorina: Yes. Adam Grant: I think that's something we all want. We all want to figure out how to bounce back and, ideally, forward from adversity. I think that both managers and parents actually really get this wrong. I feel so often the managers I work with and also the parents of my students, they really try to shield people from failure or from any kind of struggle because they're afraid it's going to break them. Last time I checked, the evidence is pretty consistent that one of the best ways to learn to deal with difficulty is actually to face it and have to overcome it. Carly Fiorina: That's right. Adam Grant: There's a book that I really like by Julie Lythcott-Haims on how to raise an adult. Julie was the Dean of Freshmen at Stanford. One of the pieces of advice she gave to all these helicopter parents out there, which there's kind of a helicopter manager version of that at work, was you don't want to shield kids from struggle. You want to normalize struggle so that they see it as something that's not devastating. It's just an ordinary part of the human experience that we all need to pick ourselves up from, which I think is exactly what you're highlighting here. Carly Fiorina: Absolutely. I think the point is your reverse resume idea is interesting as long as what people put down is genuine, but I think our culture tries to, particularly those who have the means to protect others, there is this sense that somehow we should. We should protect people from being hurt or failing or making a mistake or being insulted. I mean, for heaven's sake, my first business meeting with a client was in a strip club. Now, was that a terrible circumstance? Yes, it was, but, boy, did I learn a lot from that. I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot about the people I was working with. I learned a lot about finding common ground with people I didn't think I had anything in common with. Carly Fiorina: In this case, I found common ground with the young women who worked at that strip club who empathized with me in this sort of unspoken way. That was such an unexpected gift in that circumstance. While when I tell that story sometimes, people will say, "Yikes," or, "Oh my goodness," or, "Isn't that terrible?" Yes, it was a yikes moment. It was terrible, and yet having to deal with that, while I don't recommend it, it turned out to be a very important growth experience for me. Sometimes, while you don't want people to be disrespected or placed in situations that make them uncomfortable, on the other hand, facing situations where you really have to dig deep teaches you about yourself. There's no question. Adam Grant: Please tell me you at least changed the location of the second meeting. Carly Fiorina: Well, it never happened to me again. Adam Grant: Okay, good. Carly Fiorina: It never happened to me again because, you know, I had a colleague who was trying to put me in my place. He was trying to scare me. I knew I couldn't be scared, and I needed to meet the challenge head on. You know, it's interesting talking about humility. I also realized after that that I actually needed this guy, that he knew the customers, that he knew the company, and I didn't. The flip side of humility, perhaps, is empathy. I also figured out that he was afraid of me. He was a guy who was very close to retirement, and he was afraid of the fact that I was this brand new model with an MBA who he thought was going to undermine all the work that he felt proud of. I do think that part of problem solving and collaboration and humility is to try and figure out what are other people afraid of and what are other people's gifts at the same time. What can they bring to the table that might make the situation better? Adam Grant: That's so interesting. Do you ever find yourself actually making those observations out loud or is it just something [crosstalk 00:30:30] Carly Fiorina: Oh, yes. All the time. Oh, no. No, I do it all the time. I do it in this upcoming book. I do it in the leadership lab work that we do with nonprofits and businesses all across the country. I did it when I was an active CEO. I think people relate to storytelling, and so if you can tell stories and lift people up, either yourself or, more importantly, others who other people can relate to, "Oh, I can relate to this person. I can see myself in this story," I think it's one of the ways you start to change behavior. Lift up the person who made a mistake. Lift up the person who overcame a huge barrier. Lift up the person who maybe didn't solve a problem 100% but got 60% of the way there, and that's real progress. Adam Grant: I guess then, I'm curious. If you were going to rewind and go back to that strip club situation, I wonder if you would go so far as to have that conversation and say, "Hey, seems like you might be threatened by me as an MBA. I want to let you know I'm not actually here to replace you." Carly Fiorina: Oh, I did have that conversation. Adam Grant: You did? Carly Fiorina: Yeah, I mean, what's so interesting ... After this strip club event, experience, what should we call it? Significant emotional event [crosstalk 00:31:48] Adam Grant: Trauma? Carly Fiorina: Trauma, yeah. I mean, I was a philosophy major. I was a law school dropout. I started out as a secretary. For me to land in this sales job at AT&T, I didn't know anything. After I get through this trauma and I realize I actually have to collaborate with this guy because he has the relationships with the customers and I need those relationships in order to do my job, we had this conversation afterwards. I never beat him up about that event, but I also stood my ground. We started to work together, and we started to sell product together. We started to have business together. We started to solve problems together. At some point, we got to be close enough colleagues that I said to him, "Carl, what was that about?" He, at that point, trusted me, and so he told me what it was about. Carly Fiorina: It was kind of an aha moment, and one of the greatest compliments I ever got was when he finally retired. He came and said, "I'm starting my own company. I'd like you to come work for me." You know, I was shocked. He said, "I'd be in a foxhole with you any time." The point is we can team with lots of people. We can team with people that we initially think we hate. We can team with people that we may not agree with on a lot of things. We can team with people who are very different from ourselves. In fact, truthfully, I've found that if you collaborate with people that are different than you, you tend to have more insight and therefore solve problems better than if you just stick with the people that you think are just like you and agree with you all the time. Adam Grant: Gosh, we could use more of that understanding in the world of work. One of the things that I found most interesting when I've been trying to teach the value of cognitive diversity and background diversity as well in class for years, one of the studies I liked most was a Kathy Phillips actually set of studies where the basic finding was one of the reasons people feel like diversity makes things harder is they feel more uncomfortable. Carly Fiorina: Absolutely. That is the point. Adam Grant: Yeah, that is the point, exactly. Carly Fiorina: That's the point. Adam Grant: That discomfort led them to prepare more and listen more carefully to one another's ideas. I love the way that you just double clicked on that and said, "Yeah, that's the point. You're supposed to be uncomfortable, and that's a good thing." Do you ever worry that people get too uncomfortable, though, and it stops them from sharing information? Carly Fiorina: Well, I think you have to create, and this is the role of a true leader, you have to create a climate where people can work past that discomfort, and that takes active leadership. When I say active leadership, I mean having built diverse teams over and over and over. I can say from personal experience, yes, it is harder to collaborate with someone who's very different than you are. You have to listen harder. You have to be more thoughtful about how you say things, but, boy, the rewards are great, but you also have to pay attention to the fundamentals like: Who's in the room? Who speaks in the room? Does everybody speak in the room? How do you make sure that you have ample opportunity to green light and brainstorm as opposed to start to winnow down options and red light and make decisions? Carly Fiorina: All those things take real time and real care. Unfortunately, one of the other aspects of our business culture is we tend to say, "Meetings are useless. Meetings aren't ... Oh, gosh. Not another meeting." A lot of meetings are useless, but collaboration happens when people meet together. Let me ask you as a psychologist, because you have a scientific background that I don't have, but I have been told by others that when you are uncomfortable, that is actually the only time you're learning something new. You actually have to be uncomfortable to learn something new or to do something different or, to go back to one of your fantastic books, to be original, you have to be discomforted in some way to come up with a new idea or to hear a new idea. What do you think about that? Adam Grant: I don't buy it. In fact, the thought makes me a little uncomfortable maybe for a meta reason, though. I think anytime somebody says you have to be X in order to accomplish Y, that's somebody who has a really limited theory of success. Carly Fiorina: You don't like the formula. Adam Grant: No, anything that matters ... Actually, I'm going to make this really wonky. My worldview has shifted in grad school when I learned about systems dynamics thinking, which I guess a lot of it has been useful in the airline industry and anybody who deals with complex systems, but I think it applies to all the important things in life too. There's this principle in systems dynamics which is called equifinality, which is a fancy way of just saying there are multiple paths to the same end. I think in any complex system that's true by definition, and I think that learning or success or any other outcome that we value in life is a hugely complex system. When I think about the specific question, "Do you have to be uncomfortable to learn?" of course not. Adam Grant: I think that discomfort is one way to learn, and it's especially a way to unlearn if you have bad habits or routines that need to be adjusted. I know when I was kind of a fake athlete as a springboard diver, one of the only ways that I got better was to be uncomfortable. I'd have to, in order to try something new, let's say I'm doing two and a half somersaults in the air, for example, I'm told to move my arms differently. I get completely lost in the air, and that's got to happen in order to learn a new technique, to improve the dive. I think there are skills that require discomfort to adjust, but, for me, Carly, so much of learning is driven by curiosity and enthusiasm and passion. Adam Grant: I think about my college professor who really got me excited about psychology. I took a Personality of Psychology class with Brian Little. The class could not have been more comfortable. I was sitting there at the edge of my seat laughing and kind of wondering about things that I'd never contemplated before about, "Why am I, despite a lot of people thinking that I'm an extrovert, why am I actually an introvert?" I'm actually getting more and more comfortable with the things that I didn't understand about myself in other people. I think that's been true for so many of us. If you think about your time studying philosophy, if you think about the days when you were training to be a classical pianist, I'm guessing some of those moments were uncomfortable, but others were just, surely, they must have been exciting, right? Carly Fiorina: Yes, and I think it's interesting how you say that because maybe the word uncomfortable is wrong. Uncomfortable implies painful, labored. My own experience is when you gather, back to the subject of diversity for a moment, when you gather a group of diverse people around the table who are bound together by a common purpose or a worthy goal or a problem that they all really feel strongly about trying to solve, that is, while it takes more effort and more energy to get everybody's best thinking on the table, that is a joyful, exciting, uplifting experience. It is. It's joyful. It's exciting. It's uplifting. It's challenging. It's exciting. I guess when I use the word comfort, what I really mean is I think people tend to slide into habits, habits of the people they hang around. Actually, I think our culture is so tribal now. We tend to all retreat into our tribe. Of course, when we do that, wow, we don't hear anything new. We just hear what we want to hear, and we're certainly not solving problems. We're just going over the same old formulas over and over and over, and that happens in teams too, not just in politics, for example. Adam Grant: That resonates, and it makes me think that instead of uncomfortable, we need to be unfamiliar in order to learn. Carly Fiorina: There you go. That's a great word or challenged in some way because challenged can be joyful and exciting, to your point, and productive. One of the things that I see over and over again in teams is if you don't have collaboration among people that are different from one another, you don't get the same number of options or paths or ideas on the table. I fully agree with you. There are many paths, many options to get to an outcome, but you're going to probably do better if you have, I don't know, five or six or eight you're considering as opposed to one or two. Adam Grant: Yeah, I think that's ... I mean, it's one of the most basic truths of life. More options for achieving a goal are better. I guess there's a little wrinkle in that, though, which is you've probably seen at some point Barry Schwartz's work on the paradox of choice and how when people have too many options, especially if they're not experts in the domain, they often get paralyzed or they start to feel all this regret that they chose the wrong option. I see this a lot with my students who are always worried when they make career choices. If they close one door, it's going to be shut forever, and so they feel like they need to keep all their options open. That just leaves them in a position where they can't commit to any first path. How do you think about striking a balance between considering lots of possibilities but actually having enough conviction that one is worth pursuing to give it a try? Carly Fiorina: You know, it's interesting. I'll go back to HP just for a moment, although it applies in many things. HP had a culture where you didn't make mistakes, as we've talked about, as so many organizations do. What would happen when a decision needed to be made is people would consider every option endlessly. Well, the good news was they considered lots of options. The bad news was decisions never got made. One of the things that I think people need to realize is time plays a part in all of this. A perfect decision made too late is actually worse than an imperfect decision made on time. I think what happens is people imagine that they have endless time to analyze or consider. Of course, none of us do because we never get time back. Carly Fiorina: What I've found personally, whether it's advice to my kids or grandkids or leading an organization or leading a team, is if you can inject the reality of time, the reality of competition sometimes, "Hey, if you don't take this job, somebody else will," or, "If we don't get out into the marketplace with this product, someone else is going to," once you put time into it, it tends to focus people's energies a little bit on all these options are great, but actually we got to make a decision. I also think that great teams, collaborative teams know that there is a time for consideration and blue skying and brainstorming, and there is a time for winnowing the options, and then there is a time for decision making. Once the decision's made, a highly performing team stays together to execute the decision, whether they agreed with it initially or not. Adam Grant: Yeah, I've heard that often described as sort of a philosophy of disagree and then commit. I do worry that, in many cases, people overcommit, though. Carly Fiorina: That's true [crosstalk 00:45:09]. They don't flex as circumstances change. Adam Grant: Yeah, it often gets called escalation of commitment to a losing course of action. You put a bunch of time or resources into a project or a strategy or a goal, and then it doesn't pan out. You feel like, "Well, I have to save face and prove to myself and everybody else that this was a good idea all along." What have you learned over your career, Carly, about how to deescalate those kinds of commitments? Carly Fiorina: Well, it's such an important observation that you're making. I started this conversation by telling you about a class I took during my first MBA. I later got a Master's of Science in Business from MIT, but in that first MBA class, I remember being drummed into our heads ... Now, remember, I was a law school drop out and a secretary, so these basic lessons really landed with me, but one of these basic lessons early on was sunk cost is sunk cost because you see so many businesses make decisions based on their sunk cost, not based on the realities of what's going to be the right course going forward. What I find most helpful, again, whether it's coaching a team or leading an organization, is to have a gate process. Carly Fiorina: You know, you see this, I know, in a lot of your work around the originals and innovation and how you actually manage innovation. That is to say that you make a decision, but you also lay out when you make the decision a series of gates, a series of metrics so that you are checking your progress at each of these gates. In essence, what those gates are is an opportunity to pause and say, "Are we still on the right path or not?" You don't commit everything when you start. You commit a little more as you get through each gate. In other words, you set up at the beginning. We're going to have opportunities. We're going to create opportunities. We're going to force opportunities to look at this decision, to consider whether it's going the way we thought it would go, to consider whether circumstances have changed or not, and to recommit again or to change course. Adam Grant: I like it. I think that's an approach that what I like about it is it strikes the balance. It doesn't lead people to be completely wishy-washy, but it also helps them recognize that there is a time and a place to reevaluate and reconsider. Carly Fiorina: Adam, you have been incredibly generous with your time, and I could go on and on and on with you for hours, and maybe we should figure out a way to get together on another occasion, but I'm going to close if I can because you have been so generous. I'm going to ask you about the importance of and the difficulty of being an original. The importance of I think is obvious. If you're not original, you don't have a new idea. The reason I say the difficulty of is because so much of the culture that, for example, students deal with today is: How many likes do you get? Have you perfectly curated your Instagram photo? Does everybody think of you what you want them to think of you? Meanwhile, the helicopter parents and let's get protected from difficulty, it seems to me that people are getting so many signals these days that tells them, "Just fit in," as opposed to, "Be original." Talk to us about why it's so important to be an original. Adam Grant: I think it's a huge problem, and it starts really early. There's one study that I was depressed to read but I think we all need to be aware of. If you look at classrooms, the most creative student in the class is the least likely to be the teacher's pet. They're kind of annoying, constantly asking questions and not wanting to follow the lesson plan. Teachers very quickly stamp that out. Of course, we see bosses do the same thing in all kinds of workplaces. I think that's a missed opportunity for any group that you're a part of because the people who have the courage to be original are the ones who move us forward. They drive all the creativity and change and progress in the world. I think we desperately need that. I also think that even if you don't have an impact, ultimately, I think you're left with less regret. It goes back to that observation about, "Am I afraid of failing or am I afraid of failing to try?" Adam Grant: We do see that, in the long run, the biggest regrets most people have are not the chances they took. They're the chances they didn't take. I think if anybody does kind of a mental time travel exercise and fast forwards 10, 20, 30 years and says, "What will I regret more, being a conformist or having my original ideas rejected?" I think it's pretty clear that most of us are more afraid in the long run of not trying. I guess I think that that, to me, is one of the strongest cases for being original, but it is worth recognizing it's a bumpier road. There are two kinds of ideas that get rejected. There are bad ideas, and there are ideas that are so original that they're ahead of their time or they just weren't understood. I think you take on some risks when you go down that path, but I think ultimately that's what we need in the world in order to continue advancing. Carly Fiorina: Well, I certainly agree with that. My phrase for the kind of person you describe as an original is a change warrior. There are people who fight for changing the order of things for the better. They fight to solve problems. They fight for something new. It is a bumpier road. Yet, those change warriors, and they're everywhere, by the way, that is what a real leader, those are the people a real leader will go seek out because they know without the originals, without the change warriors, everything's going to stay the same, problems and all. Adam Grant: Our job, at some level, is to make it a little bit less of a war for those people who are excited to drive change. Carly Fiorina: Yes, exactly. Exactly right. Adam, this has been such a great conversation. I so appreciate it. I hope that we'll have an opportunity to talk again. Adam Grant: Likewise, Carly. It was surprisingly enjoyable. You're not as terrifying as I thought you'd be. Carly Fiorina: You see, preconceived notions haunt everyone. I hope I'm not terrifying at all. Adam Grant: Not at all, not in this conversation for sure. Carly Fiorina: Thanks, Adam. Have a great day. Thanks for having a challenging and exciting and I might even say joyful conversation with me. Adam Grant: Thank you. It was a delight. Carly Fiorina: That's all for now, but you can always check out more episodes online at CarlyFiorina.com or on iTunes. Please subscribe so you can get all of the episodes. You can be the first to get updates and exclusive offers by texting By Example to 345345. You can also send us feedback on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram at Carly Fiorina or by email at ByExample@CarlyFiorina.com. Until next time, I'm Carly Fiorina, and this is By Example.