Adam Grant’s 5 Ways to Bring Ideas to Life

HR can inspire workplace creativity with a few key steps.
By: | October 29, 2018 • 3 min read
Topics: HR Leadership
Thoughtful young woman sitting in concrete interior with creative business sketch and shadow. Leadership concept

We all have brilliant ideas—but what does it take to transform sparks of creativity into living, breathing realities?

There are five key ways to bring ideas to life in modern workplaces, according to organizational psychologist Adam Grant. Grant shared his insights at last week’s Shift Conference in Philadelphia. Presented by BetterUp, a digital platform that offers personalized coaching to employees across all levels of a company, the conference focused on the science behind human-capital transformation. Grant, a New York Times bestselling author and professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, recently joined BetterUp’s Science Board, comprised of leaders in behavioral psychology, anthropology, design thinking and executive coaching.

Speaking at the conference to the crowd of HR professionals, coaches, psychologists and other thought leaders, Grant outlined steps that forward-thinking employees and leaders can take to bring ideas out of the abstract–many of which, he noted, should resonate with HR professionals looking to inspire creativity in their workforces.

Put Your Worst Foot Forward

When you begin a pitch by pointing out flaws in your proposal, it activates what he says is known as availability bias: “If it’s easy to think of, it’s easy to think it’s true,” he said. For example, if during a meeting, a worker outlined all the challenges that could stymie her idea—and followed up with strategies for mitigating them—those considering the proposal may be inclined to think those challenges are essentially the worst-case scenario, for which she’s already prepared. Grant referenced Rufus Griscom, who raised millions for his start-up parenting magazine, Babble, by telling investors why not to invest.


Make the Unfamiliar Familiar

Grant led the approximately 150 conference guests in a group exercise: Each was asked to pick a simple tune and tap it out on the table for their neighbor to guess the song—very few did so successfully. Grant likened the practice to bringing a new idea to the workplace: It sounds perfect in your head, but others are hearing it for the first time. “It takes 10 to 20 exposures to a new idea before it can gain traction,” he said, noting successful innovators need to “master the art of repetition.”

Evaluate Givers and Takers

Grant classified people as givers or takers—descriptors that represent their inner motives and values. Within those two categories, he said, people tend to be agreeable or disagreeable—their outer presentation, which may or may not match their motives.

Within an organization, agreeable givers are often the most visible and vocal about helping make ideas happen, yet it is the disagreeable givers who can be the real innovators, Grant said, as they’re willing to give of themselves but also comfortable challenging the norms and presenting new ideas.