Tag Archives: career

Where Neuroscience Meets Leadership

I was originally introduced to the concept of NeuroLeadership via an article that my step-sister was reading for a work conference – SCARF: A brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others (NeuroLeadership Journal, 2008). I was intrigued, since I had been researching effective leadership methods for the company I was with at the time, and so I googled around to see if there were any books or materials on the subject. I found a sole Handbook of NeuroLeadership on eBay and jumped at the opportunity.

Image result for neuroleadership handbook

I started reading it casually in my spare time but soon found myself completely immersed. The idea that we could bring the rigorous study of neuroscience to the realm of leadership and actually study how the brain functions when performing in leadership capacities was fascinating to me. Previously, the leadership models were primarily based on behavioral science. They would observe what people did in leadership roles and find trends across sample populations. They would then hazard educated guesses at cause and effect, presumably trying to predict how future actions would play out. It seemed to be a somewhat reliable method dependent on predictable probabilities, but it was an imperfect system that didn’t really get to the root of HOW these leadership trends were taking place.

I’ve always been interested in how humans interact with each other and themselves, and, since I was on a quest to find real answers and solutions for the organizational problems that my company was facing, it seemed like NeuroLeadership might be THE answer.

The researchers assert that the four tenets of NeuroLeadership are: Decision Making, Collaborating with Others, Self Regulation, and Facilitating Change. After years of analysis and study, the NeuroLeadership Institute has discovered that those four factors determine whether someone will make an effective leader or not: They must be able to make sound and timely decisions, they must be able to collaborate with others as well as manage others’ inter-collaboration, they must be able to effectively regulate their own emotions and actions, and they must be able to enact organization change in an efficient and non-threatening manner.

The researchers even went as far as studying the mechanisms within the brain that are vital to such processes and are in the process of determining ways in which people can strengthen and enhance their leadership skills by training their brain. Sound theory and action, all in one? Sign me up!

After I had read through as good portion of the 600-page Handbook, I decided to further my education and take advantage of the Foundations of NeuroLeadership Certificate course that the Institute offered online. The course confirmed my recent realization that, in the realm of business development, businesses can only develop as far as the individual people running the business were willing to develop themselves. They could try and enact external changes to the business – trying different processes, organizations, or procedures – but the changes would be slightly effective at best and downright destructive at worst.

This concept of personal development fascinated me since I had been on my own personal development journey for a while already and, to be honest, trying to excel in the world of small business development by trying to get unwilling colleagues to enact new changes to the way they did things was a frustrating endeavor. I was already reading all kinds of personal development books in my spare time so I started looking into how to make personal development into my career.

I had considered life coaching briefly when I had first shut down my store two years earlier, and here I was at a crossroads once again (probably more like a brick wall). But, now, I had the resources to do a certification so I did some soul-searching and mind-mapping. I realized that I had the perfect combination of experience, interest, and opportunity to finally launch into the career of a coach.

Now, as I move into expanding my coaching business, I am creating services for Wellness Coaching as well as NeuroLeadership Coaching because I want to create a coaching practice that incorporates neuroscience to maximize the potential benefits for the client. As always, I will try to keep you guys updated as I progress. Stay tuned!

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Free Time Is an American Dream Deferred – NYTimes.com

http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/03/09/rethinking-the-40-hour-work-week/free-time-is-an-american-dream-deferred

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Yes, summer job paid tuition back in ’81, but then we got cheap

By Danny Westneat

Seattle Times staff columnist

Originally published June 22, 2013 at 7:28 PM | Page modified June 24, 2013 at 11:15 AM

“People tell me you used to be able to work one job, the entire summer, and cover your entire education. I’m not sure how long ago that was — I have a hard time believing it. — Stephan Yhann, 21, current UW student

Put down your smartphones, kids, and gather around Uncle Danny. I’m here to tell you a little something about these yarns from the days of yore, these tales so tall and preposterous.

What’s most amazing about them is: They’re true! You really could work a summer job and pay for your education.

I saw it myself. And I’m only 48 years old!

OK, I say “only,” as if 48 isn’t all that old. Which, let’s be blunt, it is. But it’s not like I’m reaching back to the 1930s here. Just the ’80s. Depressing, maybe, but hardly the Depression.

Yet in the early 1980s, when I was about to head off to college, I worked jobs at Kentucky Fried Chicken and later at a rubber-parts factory, where I got paid $3 and $6 an hour. With no skills whatever, I made $120 to $240 a week.

Sounds like beer money only. But here’s the part that will really freak out you kids today: a year of tuition and fees at the University of Washington in, say, 1981, was $687. It was similar for other public colleges around the nation.

That’s not a misprint. There’s no missing digit. Even a crappy job like slinging chicken at KFC could pay for that year’s UW tuition, and most of next year’s, too.

Today? At $10 an hour you’d have to work 1,250 hours to cover the UW’s $12,500 tuition (more, once you take out taxes). In a 12-week summer, that’s more than 100 hours a week.

What really made me feel ancient is that the 1981 UW student guide shows the Med school charged only $1,029 a year back then. Today: $28,040!

Now, I didn’t go to the UW. But I’m going down Husky memory lane because last week The Seattle Times featured a crop of harried UW students looking rueful and broke. The story said skeptical state legislators often say how “they worked their way through college. And then they ask: Why don’t students do that today?”

Of all our delusions, we old farts cling to this bootstrap one the most. We worked our way up on sweat and chicken grease, we say. Can’t this generation? What’s wrong with them?

What’s wrong is that after we got ours, we cut it off for them.

The reason a summer at KFC could pay for a year of UW med school in 1981 isn’t that we were so hardworking and industrious. It’s that taxpayers back then picked up 90 percent of the tab. We weren’t Horatio Algers. We were socialists.

Today, the public picks up only 30 percent of UW tuition, and dropping.

How we milked the public university system in this state and then starved it will go down as the great badge of shame of my generation and the one before mine, the baby boomers. Affordable college made us. Once made, we wouldn’t pay even a two-cent per can soda-pop tax to give that same gift to anybody else.

So, kids, the unbelievable tales of yore are true. Except the part about rugged individualism — that is baloney. Due to the allure of this myth, however, you’ll get no help from us. You’re on your own.

You can have a lecture on the virtues of hard work, though. No charge.

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com”

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July 11, 2013 · 3:30 pm

How to Answer the Top 35 Interview Questions [INFOGRAPHIC]

“This infographic (from Sample Questionaire) lists the top 35 most asked interview questions, and how to answer them! How many of these have you been asked? Let us know in the comments below!

Highlights:

  • Are you a team player? This needs a firm YES!
  • What irritates you about co-workers? Say you deal with things softly, and you can get along with anyone once problems are solved.
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Speak as if you have vision, and follow what you placed in your resume.

Most Asked Job InterviewSource: samplequestionnaire.com

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July 11, 2013 · 3:22 pm

From the Mouths of Babes

I’ve been on food stamps since August of last year to help me feed myself while I interned  at a theatre in Louisville, KY. My internship paid me $1000 for 8 months, that’s roughly $30 a week, and it kept me working for over full time (sometimes hitting 60 hours a week). Food stamps helped me make ends meet on top of a $600/mo. apartment plus utilities of $30-80/mo. and phone bills of $80/mo., etc. I got $200/mo. from food stamps which helped out enormously. I view it as the government investing in my future because I’ve paid taxes since I was 15 and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. I was lucky to have parents that paid out of pocket for my college education so that I wasn’t saddled with any debt. But, that also means that they don’t have much more left to help me survive now. So, what do you think? Am I part of the entitled poor that are sucking up tax-payers money? – Claire E Jones

 

 

 

 

By 

Published: May 30, 2013

“Like many observers, I usually read reports about political goings-on with a sort of weary cynicism. Every once in a while, however, politicians do something so wrong, substantively and morally, that cynicism just won’t cut it; it’s time to get really angry instead. So it is with the ugly, destructive war against food stamps.

The food stamp program — which these days actually uses debit cards, and is officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — tries to provide modest but crucial aid to families in need. And the evidence is crystal clear both that the overwhelming majority of food stamp recipients really need the help, and that the program is highly successful at reducing “food insecurity,” in which families go hungry at least some of the time.

Food stamps have played an especially useful — indeed, almost heroic — role in recent years. In fact, they have done triple duty.

First, as millions of workers lost their jobs through no fault of their own, many families turned to food stamps to help them get by — and while food aid is no substitute for a good job, it did significantly mitigate their misery. Food stamps were especially helpful to children who would otherwise be living in extreme poverty, defined as an income less than half the official poverty line.

But there’s more. Why is our economy depressed? Because many players in the economy slashed spending at the same time, while relatively few players were willing to spend more. And because the economy is not like an individual household — your spending is my income, my spending is your income — the result was a general fall in incomes and plunge in employment. We desperately needed (and still need) public policies to promote higher spending on a temporary basis — and the expansion of food stamps, which helps families living on the edge and let them spend more on other necessities, is just such a policy.

Indeed, estimates from the consulting firm Moody’s Analytics suggest that each dollar spent on food stamps in a depressed economy raises G.D.P. by about $1.70 — which means, by the way, that much of the money laid out to help families in need actually comes right back to the government in the form of higher revenue.

Wait, we’re not done yet. Food stamps greatly reduce food insecurity among low-income children, which, in turn, greatly enhances their chances of doing well in school and growing up to be successful, productive adults. So food stamps are in a very real sense an investment in the nation’s future — an investment that in the long run almost surely reduces the budget deficit, because tomorrow’s adults will also be tomorrow’s taxpayers.

So what do Republicans want to do with this paragon of programs? First, shrink it; then, effectively kill it.

The shrinking part comes from the latest farm bill released by the House Agriculture Committee (for historical reasons, the food stamp program is administered by the Agriculture Department). That bill would push about two million people off the program. You should bear in mind, by the way, that one effect of the sequester has been to pose a serious threat to a different but related program that provides nutritional aid to millions of pregnant mothers, infants, and children. Ensuring that the next generation grows up nutritionally deprived — now that’s what I call forward thinking.

And why must food stamps be cut? We can’t afford it, say politicians like Representative Stephen Fincher, a Republican of Tennessee, who backed his position with biblical quotations — and who also, it turns out, has personally received millions in farm subsidies over the years.

These cuts are, however, just the beginning of the assault on food stamps. Remember, Representative Paul Ryan’s budget is still the official G.O.P. position on fiscal policy, and that budget calls for converting food stamps into a block grant program with sharply reduced spending. If this proposal had been in effect when the Great Recession struck, the food stamp program could not have expanded the way it did, which would have meant vastly more hardship, including a lot of outright hunger, for millions of Americans, and for children in particular.

Look, I understand the supposed rationale: We’re becoming a nation of takers, and doing stuff like feeding poor children and giving them adequate health care are just creating a culture of dependency — and that culture of dependency, not runaway bankers, somehow caused our economic crisis.

But I wonder whether even Republicans really believe that story — or at least are confident enough in their diagnosis to justify policies that more or less literally take food from the mouths of hungry children. As I said, there are times when cynicism just doesn’t cut it; this is a time to get really, really angry.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on May 31, 2013, on page A21 of the New York edition with the headline: From The Mouths Of Babes.”

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May 31, 2013 · 7:44 pm

A Billionaire on Working Mothers: Babies Kill Women’s Focus

May 24, 2013, 6:07 pm

By KJ DELL’ANTONIA

“Every so often, someone — usually, but not always, an older white man — decides to gather up his favorite old stereotype about women, dust it off, polish it up and give it a fresh airing. This time around, it’s a hedge-fund billionaire.

Paul Tudor Jones told an audience of University of Virginia students, alumni and others last month that when it comes to the laser focus needed to succeed in the macro trading industry, for women, babies are “killer.”

“Every single investment idea … every desire to understand what is going to make this go up or go down is going to be overwhelmed by the most beautiful experience … which a man will never share, about a mode of connection between that mother and that baby. And I’ve just seen it happen over and over.”

Mr. Jones was apparently under the impression that he could speak freely, as the dean of the McIntire School of Commerce, where Mr. Jones was on a panel, had directed the audience not to record or quote from the event. But the university itself recorded the panel, and The Washington Post obtained a video of his remarks through a Freedom of Information Act request.

No woman working in a male-dominated industry (or, really, any industry) will fail to recognize that what Mr. Jones was willing to put into words is a prejudice that lurks unspoken in many hiring decisions (and isn’t limited to men). Some people in positions of power believe that women of a certain age are likely to have babies, take maternity leaves and then quit or give their job less than 100 percent once the baby arrives. As he put it, “As soon as that baby’s lips touched that girl’s bosom, forget it.” He said it, but while we hope it’s changing, most of us know that he’s not the only one who is thinking it.

It’s all too easy to criticize Mr. Jones, and maybe have a little fun pointing out that some men notoriously lose their own “laser focus” when lips and bosoms are involved. But cheap shots don’t change minds. What we really need to do is think harder about why this particular prejudice about women and work still holds such sway.”

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May 28, 2013 · 7:48 pm

How to Worry Less About Money | Brain Pickings

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/05/13/how-to-worry-less-about-money/

by 

“What Goethe can teach us about cultivating a healthy relationship with our finances.

The question of how people spend and earn money has been a cultural obsession since the dawn of economic history, but the psychology behind it is sometimes surprising and often riddled with various anxieties. In How to Worry Less about Money (public library) — another great installment in The School of Life’s heartening series reclaiming the traditional self-help genre as intelligent, non-self-helpy, yet immensely helpful guides to modern living, which previously gave us Philippa Perry’s How to Stay Sane, Alain de Botton’s How to Think More About Sex, and Roman Krznaric’s How to Find Fulfilling Work — Melbourne Business School philosopher-in-residenceJohn Armstrong guides us to arriving at our own “big views about money and its role in life,” transcending the narrow and often oppressive conceptions of our monoculture.

He begins with a crucial distinction, the heart of which echoes James Gordon Gilkey’s 1934 advice on how not to worry. Armstrong writes:

This book is about worries. It’s not about money troubles. There’s a crucial difference.

Troubles are urgent. They ask for direct action. … By contrast, worries often say more about the worrier than about the world.

[…]

So, addressing money worries should be quite different from dealing with money troubles. To address our worries we have to give attention to the pattern of thinking (ideology) and to the scheme of values (culture) as these are played out in our won individual, private existences.

While modern money-advice tends to fall into two main categories — how to get more money and how to get by on less — Armstrong points out that this bespeaks our culture’s fixation on troubles rather than worries. He writes:

This is a problem because the theme of money is so deep and pervasive in our lives. One’s relationship with money is lifelong, it colors one’s sense of identity, it shapes one’s attitude to other people, it connects and splits generations; money is the arena in which greed and generosity are played out, in which wisdom is exercised and folly committed. Freedom, desire, power, status, work, possession: these huge ideas that rule life are enacted, almost always, in and around money.

He draws an analogy from the philosophy of teaching, which distinguishes between training and education:

Training teaches how to carry out a specific task more efficiently and reliably. Education, on the other hand, opens and enriches a person’s mind. To train a person, you need know nothing about who they really are, or what they love, or why. Education reaches out to embrace the whole person. Historically, we have treated money as a matter of training, rather than education in its wider and more dignified sense.

Indianapolis Newsboys buying brass checks in a newspaper office, 1908

The U.S. National Archives, public domain

 

Underpinning our money worries, Armstrong argues, are four main questions that have far less to do with our financial standing than with psychoemotional and social factors — questions about why money is important to us, how much money we need to achieve what’s important to us, what the best way to acquire that money is, and what our economic responsibilities to others are in the course of acquiring and using that money. We’ll never overcome our money worries, he argues, unless we first recognize those underlying questions:

Our worries — when it comes to money — are about psychology as much as economics, the soul as much as the bank balance.

Key among Armstrong’s strategies for alleviating such worries is developing a good relationship with money, which parallels human-to-human dynamics:

One thing that’s characteristic of a good relationship is this: you get more accurate at assigning responsibility. When things go wrong you can see how much is your fault and how much is the fault of the other person. And the same holds when things go well. You know that part of it is your doing and part depends on the contribution of your partner.

This model applies to money. When things go well or badly, it’s partly about what you bring to the situation and partly about what money brings. What money brings is a certain level of spending power.

What you bring to this relationship includes imagination, values, emotions, attitudes, ambitious, fears, and memories. So the relationship is absolutely not just a matter of pure economic facts of how much you get and how much you spend.

In discussing research indicating that more money, after a certain threshold, doesn’t mean more happiness, Armstrong offers a necessary definition of happiness:

When we talk about happiness, what do we have in mind? Probably a mixture of buoyancy and serenity; you feel elated but safe.

The relationship money has to these attributes, he argues, is “real but diminishing.” While money can buy the accoutrements of buoyancy — chocolate, weekend getaways, expensive shoes — many people feel unhappy despite having these. His explanation, echoing the philosophy of Alan Watts, leads to the obvious conclusion:

Money can purchase the symbols but not the causes of serenity and buoyancy. In a straightforward way we must agree that money cannot buy happiness.

Market scene, 1922

The Field Museum Library, public domain

 

Since Armstrong’s main argument is premised on the idea that our culture is geared toward addressing troubles rather than amplifying well-being, which parallels the disconnect that Martin Seligman observed in the field of psychology when he founded the positive psychology movement, it comes as no surprise that Armstrong’s key construct in solving the conundrum mirrors Seligman’s philosophy of flourishing over “happiness.” Indeed, Armstrong argues that while serenity and buoyancy are appealing, they fall short of reflecting what people really want out of life:

Most people realize that they really need to do things for other people. There is a deep fear that one’s life will be lived in vain — without making a contribution, or a benign difference, to the lives of others.

[…]

Flourishing means getting on with the things that are important for you to do, exercising your capacities, actively trying to “realize” what you care about and bring it into life. But these activities involve anxiety, fear of failure and setbacks, as well as a sense of satisfaction, occasional triumphs and moments of excitement.

And yet this is in no way a motion to flatten the full dimensionality of the human experience:

A good life is still a life. It must involve a full share of suffering, loneliness, disappointment and coming to terms with one’s own mortality and the deaths of those one loves. To live a life that is good as a life involves all this.

While the things money can secure — like power, influence, and access to resources — may not be shortcuts to serenity and buoyancy, Armstrong argues, they are inextricably linked to flourishing by enabling you to pursue the things that are important to you and, in the process, to contribute to the lives of others. Here, the relationship between amount of money and potential for flourishing doesn’t flatline the way it does in a more narrow conception of happiness:

Armstrong’s key point, however, is that while this correlation of growth might be directly proportional, money isn’t a cause of flourishing but an ingredient in it, a mere resource with which to build the life we want, catalyzed by virtue:

Money brings about good consequences — helps us live valuable lives — only when joined with “virtues.” Virtues are good abilities of mind and character.

Reminiscent of Ben-Franklian virtues like temperance, frugality, and moderation is another essential skill in alleviating our money worries — the ability to distinguish between wants and needs. The need-desire distinction, Armstrong suggests, is useful in warding off mere desires, like the longing for the latest shiny gadget, even if it’s of little utilitarian value, or that sleek new bike, even if the old one works perfectly fine.

If we want to be wise about money we should resist the impulse to follow our desires and concentrate instead on getting what we need.

Need is deeper — bound up with the serious narrative of one’s life. “Do I need this”? is a way of asking: how important is this thing, how central is it to my becoming a good version of myself; what is it actually for in my life? This interrogation is designed to distinguish needs from mere wants. And that’s a good distinction to make.

But it is important to see that this is not the same as the “modest versus grand” distinction. Our needs are not always for the smaller, lesser, cheaper thing.

The ultimate purpose of purchases, he argues, is to help us flourish. His strategy for mastering the needs/wants balance thus rests on not conflating this dichotomy with familiar ones like basic/refined (“a distinction about the level of complexity of an object”) or cheap/luxurious (“a distinction to do with price and demand”). Instead, he recommends a seemingly counter-intuitive approach — to consider our needs first, without taking price into account.

But, ultimately, Armstrong points out that the things most essential to our flourishing — despite what our monoculture might dictate — are often unrelated to material goods:

The crucial developmental step in the economic lives of individuals and societies is their ability to cross from the pursuit of middle-order goods to higher-order goods. Sometimes we need to lessen our attachment to the middle needs like status and glamor in order to concentrate on higher things. This doesn’t take more money; it takes more independence of mind.

Still, the material and the spiritual are inextricably linked:

There are quite profound reasons why we should care simultaneously about having and doing. Both are connected to flourishing.

What we do with our lives is obviously central to who we are. What we expend our mental energy on, what we put our emotional resources into, where we deploy courage or daring or prudence or commitment: these are major parts of existence and are inevitably much connected with work and earning money. And we need these parts of existence in order to find proper application in activities that deserve our best efforts. We don’t’ want to reserve our central capacities for the margins and weekends of life.

Despite certain cultural stereotypes, Armstrong points out that, precisely because of these parallel forces, doing well and doing good don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and there could in fact exist a straight positive correlation between intrinsic worth and extrinsic, material reward:

At an individual level, one is trying to find a way of making this happen in one’s own life. But because intrinsic worth isn not just what is good for me, but what is actually good, this is a public service as well. It’s not greedy to want to make quite a lot of money — if you want to make it as a reward for doing things that are genuinely good for other people.

In considering yet another essential difference — that between price and value — Armstrong makes a key distinction, which most of us intuit but can rarely articulate with such eloquence:

Price is a public matter — a negotiation between supply and demand. A thing’s price is set in competition. So the price of a car is determined by how much some people want it, how much they are willing to pay, and how ready the manufacturer is to sell. It’s a public activity: lots of people are involved in the process, but your voice is almost never important in setting the price.

Value, on the other hand, is a personal, ethical and aesthetic judgment — assigned finally by individuals, and founded on their perceptiveness, wisdom and character.

Armstrong finds a certain artfulness to the issue of managing our money-worries:

Ultimately, one is cultivating an art — one of the minor political arts, the art of domestic finance. By saying that it is an art, one is getting at the idea that there are multiple motives and rewards, which are integrated. There is anaesthetic or order — a physical beauty that is connected to neatness and clarity — like the beauty of the periodic table, or the elegance of a mathematical equation, or the rightness of a note in a sonata. It is a classical beauty.

In a chapter considering the problems of the rich, who are able to use money to fulfill their desires, Armstrong writes, with a wince and a wink at the “hedonic treadmill”:

Money does not liberate people in the way that we assume it must.

[…]

There is a very imperfect relationship between desire and flourishing. Desire aims at pleasure. Whereas the achievement of a good life depends upon the good we create. And the opportunity to follow whatever desire one might happen to have is the enemy of the effort, concentration, devotion, patience and self-sacrifice that are necessary if we are to achieve worthwhile ends.

Armstrong goes on to outline a number of practical strategies for improving our relationship with money and thus mastering our worries, concluding with a wonderful anecdote of a man who epitomized that relationship at its healthiest:Goethe.

‘The civilized ideal: elegance and devotion to work.’

Jonathan Joseph Schmeller, Goethe in His Study Dictating to His Secretary John, 1831

 

From his many writings about his own experiences, we know that he was determined to get well paid for his work. He came from a well-off background but sought independence. He switched careers, from law to government adviser so as to be able to earn more (which made sense then; today the trajectory might be in the opposite direction. He coped with serious setbacks. His first novel was extremely popular but he made no money from it because of inadequate copyright laws. Later, he negotiated better contracts. He was very competent in financial matters and kept meticulous records of his income and expenditure. He liked what money could buy — including … a stylish house-coat (his study has no heating). But for all this, money and money worries did not dominate his inner life. He wrote with astonishing sensitivity about love and beauty. He was completely realistic and pragmatic when it came to money but this did not lead him to neglect the worth of exploring bigger, more important concepts in life.

Complement How to Worry Less about Money with The School of Life’s How to Find Fulfilling Work and How to Stay Sane.

Quoted text excerpted from How to Worry Less about Money by John Armstrong. Copyright © 2012 by The School of Life.”

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The Unluckiest Generation: What Will Become of Millennials?

 APR 26 2013, 11:31 AM ET

AP

“The nearly 3.7 million American babies born in 1982 weren’t special, except to their families. But in the eyes of demographers, they were categorically different from the 3.6 million Americans born in 1981. They were the first members of a new club: Generation Y.

This so-called millennial cohort, the largest generation in American history, landed in the cradle during an awful recession, learned to walk during the Reagan recovery, came of age in the booming 1990s, and entered the labor market after the Sept. 11 attacks and before the Great Recession, the two tragedies of the early 21st century. They’ve survived an eventful few decades.

Yet nothing in those vertiginous 30 years could have prepared them for the economic sledgehammer that followed the collapse of the housing market in 2007-08. And the aftereffects, economists fear, may dog them for the rest of their working lives.

Generation Y is the most educated in American history, but its education came at a price. Average debt for graduates of public universities doubled between 1996 and 2006. Students chose to take it on because they expected to find a job that paid it off; instead, they found themselves stranded in the worst economy in 80 years. Young people who skipped college altogether have faced something worse: depressed wages in a global economy that finds it easier than ever to replace jobs with technology or to move them overseas.

Finding a good job as a young adult has always been a game of chance. But more and more, the rules have changed: Heads, you lose; tails, you’re disqualified. The unemployment rate for young people scraped 18 percent in 2010, and in the past five years, real wages have fallen for millennials–and only for millennials.

Adulthood, Deferred
It costs a lot to be a grown-up. It means more than saying “please” or holding doors for the elderly, although those are nice to do. It also means moving out of your parents’ home, renting a place of your own, paying for food and clothes, buying a car, getting married, having children, buying a house–all the trappings and expenses of a middle-class life.

These life stages drive a consumer economy. “Housing IS the Business Cycle” is the memorably brief title of a 2007 study by University of California (Los Angeles) economist Edward E. Leamer showing that the housing market both presages recessions and bolsters recoveries. A generation that buys new homes is a generation that pushes the economy forward.

But millennials have responded with a collective “No, thanks.” Or at least “Not yet.” More than one in five Americans ages 18-34 told Pew Research Center pollsters last year that they’ve postponed having a baby “because of the bad economy.” The same proportion said they were holding off marriage until the economy recovered. More than a third of 25- to 29-year-olds had moved back in with their parents. Millennials have been scorned as perma-children, forever postponing adulthood, or labeled with that most un-American of character flaws: helplessness.

Infographic

The case for pessimism is depressingly easy to make. Even after the economy recovers, the penalty for graduating into a recession may still apply to young people’s wages. When Lisa Kahn, an economist at Yale, studied how the 1981-82 recession affected the lifetime earnings of young workers who graduated during the 1980s, she found that for every percentage-point increase in total unemployment, the starting incomes of new graduates slipped by as much as 7 percent. Two decades later, because of their bad timing, these graduates had taken a $100,000 hit to their cumulative earnings.

If this pattern applies to millennials, the consequences will be grim for an economy that relies on big-ticket items such as houses and cars. Half of a typical family’s spending goes to transportation and housing. But Americans ages 21-34 bought only 27 percent of the new vehicles sold in the United States in 2010, compared with 38 percent in 1985; from 2008 to ’11, only half as many young Americans as a decade earlier acquired their first mortgage. Having been rejected by the economy, millennials are in turn rejecting cars and houses–the pillars of the modern consumer economy.

Life Gets Better (and Cheaper)
Still, do millennials really count as the unluckiest generation since World War II? It’s true that wages haven’t grown this slowly in decades, and globalization and technology have held down wages for millions of young workers to an unprecedented extent.

But in some ways, millennials are also the luckiest.

For one thing, they’re living in an age of affordable abundance. Food has never been cheaper as a share of the typical American family budget. The price of apparel is also falling relative to wages. The Internet, while no substitute for gainful employment, has made many things cheaper that used to take extra income to buy–communication, notably, including private information-sharing and professional collaboration. It has made casual retail cheaper (and more convenient). It has also made mass entertainment cheaper, especially music and amateur videos. These commodities have grown cheaper, in part, by replacing and lowering the cost of human work.

That we live in a golden era of cheap essentials and entertainment might register as cold statistical comfort for the millions of unemployed millennials who watch their dreams fade with every passing year. This group can hope for another mitigating factor: time. The U.S. economy is expected to continue its recovery–unemployment falling, wages rising, debts slowly getting repaid, life going on as it did before 2008. In an economy that is now creating 200,000 private-sector jobs a month, the total debt held by young adults has shrunk to its lowest level in 15 years.

Even if millennials haven’t read about these trends, they seem to feel them in their bones. The Pew study that found twentysomethings moving back home also reported that nine in 10 millennials said they already earn (or have) enough money, or expect to in the future. If optimism has any currency, the millennials may well outgrow their miserable circumstances and bequeath to their own children a more prosperous nation than their parents left for them. They’re the best-educated generation in American history, moving into their prime working years while home prices remain fairly cheap. Is that so unlucky?

Still, their timing couldn’t be unluckier. The past 30 years have seen enduring income stagnation capped by an economic collapse. Average household wealth nearly doubled between 1983 and 2010, the Urban Institute recently found, but younger generations shouldn’t expect the same. They already lag their parents in wealth (by 7 percent) at the equivalent age, and “now, stagnant wages, diminishing job opportunities, and lost home values may be merging to paint a vastly different future for Gen X and Gen Y,” Eugene Steuerle and three coauthors concluded. “Despite their relative youth, they may not be able to make up the lost ground.””

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Lean In, Dad

April 2, 2013

By CATHERINE RAMPELL

“I happen to be an educated young woman who loves her job, sometimes gushingly, occasionally annoyingly. And yet, even in this enlightened age, I’ve had two relationships end — at least in large part — thanks to that clammy-palmed discussion in which couples plot hypothetical milestones and life goals. The gentlemen in question said that, somewhere in our semicharted future, they expected me to quit my job. At least for a couple of years, anyway, in order to be the kind of hypothetical mother they wanted to raise their hypothetical kids, if that hypothetical day ever came.

I don’t pretend to know how common this situation is, and how many other young women have found themselves in it. But it clarified not only the choices that future mothers must make about their careers, but also how early in their careers they must begin to think about them. And while fairness and feminism may urge us to find better ways for women to balance work and life — Sheryl Sandberg and Anne-Marie Slaughter have certainly made impassioned cries — the most convincing argument seems to be an economic one.

In the United States, women represent not only a majority of college graduates but also a majority of advanced-degree holders. But the lack of policies facilitating the work-life balance — like paid maternity leave and flexible work hours — has millions of them underemployed. It’s hard to quantify exactly how much human capital is being wasted, but one clue lies in a study by economists at the University of Chicago and Stanford. It estimates that 15 to 20 percent of American productivity growth over the last five decades has come from more efficient allocation of underrepresented groups, like women, into occupations that were largely off-limits, like doctors or lawyers. Even more efficient allocation of women’s talents would, presumably, drive further growth, which will become even more critical in the years ahead. By 2050, there are projected to be just 2.6 working-age Americans for every American of retirement age. (In 2008, it was 4.7.)

Other rich countries have figured out ways to keep women in the labor force. While companies like Yahoo and Best Buy bar employees from working from home, the European Union has issued a directive that all member countries must allow parents — men and women — to request part-time, flexible or home-based work arrangements in addition to paid leave. Other developed countries also have affordable, high-quality public childcare. In Sweden, some public nurseries are even available 24 hours a day.

Such policies contribute to these countries’ swollen welfare states and higher tax burdens, but they do keep women at work. Back in 1990, in a ranking of 22 developed countries, the United States had the 6th-highest share of its prime-working-age women active in the work force. By 2010, it had tumbled to 17th place. A new study from Francine D. Blau and Lawrence M. Kahn, both economists at Cornell, estimates that if the United States had the average of other developed countries’ work-life policies, 82 percent of America’s prime-working-age women would be in the labor force, instead of the current 75 percent.

But what kind of employment would they have, exactly? New research suggests that, because it’s primarily women who take advantage of leave and part-time entitlements, work-life accommodations often paradoxically limit career trajectories. Women in Sweden, Finland and Denmark — and other countries held up as paragons of gender parity — are much more likely to end up in traditional pink-collar positions than are their counterparts in the United States. They are certainly much less likely to end up as managers, or in traditionally male professional arenas like law or finance. “In a regime where anyone can go part time, where it’s hard to get rid of people if they do, employers might sort on the front end and not hire people they think are likely to want to go part time, which usually means women,” said Lawrence F. Katz, an economist at Harvard. “There may be no way a woman can credibly commit to sticking around and not going part time.” The U.S., where these policies do not exist, has the smallest gap between women’s representation in the labor force and their representation in senior management positions.

In order to prescribe policies that really allow female workers to “lean in” at work, social scientists are trying to find ones that recast social norms and encourage male workers to “lean in” at home. One area where there seems to be a lot of potential is paternity leave, which still has a stigma in both the United States and Europe. To remedy this bad rap, countries like Sweden and Norway have recently introduced a quota of paid parental leave available only to fathers. If dads don’t take it, they’re leaving money on the table. In Germany and Portugal, moms get bonus weeks of maternity leave if their husbands take a minimum amount of paternity leave. All these countries have seen gigantic increases in the share of fathers who go on leave.

This might not sound like such a big deal, but social scientists are coming around to the notion that a man spending a few weeks at home with his newborn can help recast expectations and gender roles, at work and home, for a long time. A striking new study by a Cornell graduate student, Ankita Patnaik, based on a new paid paternity-leave quota in Quebec, found that parents’ time use changed significantly. Several years after being exposed to the reform, fathers spent more time in child care and domestic work — particularly “time-inflexible” chores, like cooking, that cut into working hours — than fathers who weren’t exposed to the reform. More important, mothers spent considerably more time at work growing their careers and contributing more to the economy, all without any public mandates or shaming.

Paid paternity leave, like paid maternity leave, may sound like a pipe dream, but states (New Jersey, California) and big companies (Ernst & Young, Bank of America) are increasingly offering it and financing it out of their own pocket. They have a vested interest in lobbying Congress to federalize the costs of these accommodations. And that seems only fair. After all, unleashing the full potential of the second sex benefits not only this handful of players but the entire U.S. economy, too.

Catherine Rampell is an economics reporter for The Times. Adam Davidson is off this week.”

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April 9, 2013 · 5:26 pm

Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead?

March 27, 2013

By SUSAN DOMINUS

“Just after noon on a Wednesday in November, Adam Grant wrapped up a lecture at the Wharton School and headed toward his office, a six-minute speed walk away. Several students trailed him, as often happens; at conferences, Grant attracts something more like a swarm. Grant chatted calmly with them but kept up the pace. He knew there would be more students waiting outside his office, and he said, more than once, “I really don’t like to keep students waiting.”

Grant, 31, is the youngest-tenured and highest-rated professor at Wharton. He is also one of the most prolific academics in his field, organizational psychology, the study of workplace dynamics. Grant took three years to get his Ph.D., and in the seven years since, he has published more papers in his field’s top-tier journals than colleagues who have won lifetime-achievement awards. His influence extends beyond academia. He regularly advises companies about how to get the most out of their employees and how to help their employees get the most out of their jobs. It is Grant whom Google calls when “we are thinking about big problems we are trying to solve,” says Prasad Setty, who heads Google’s people analytics group. Plenty of people have made piles of money by promising the secrets to getting things done or working a four-hour week or figuring out what color your parachute is or how to be a brilliant one-minute manager. But in an academic field that is preoccupied with the study of efficiency and productivity, Grant would seem to be the most efficient and productive.

When we arrived at Grant’s office on the Philadelphia campus, five students were waiting outside. The first was a student trying to decide between Teach for America and a human-resources job at Google. Grant walked her through some other possibilities, testing her theories about potential outcomes. Although she was aware of the crowd, she seemed to be in no hurry to leave, in part because Grant was so clearly engaged. A second student came in. Then a third. Someone dropped off a bottle of wine to say thank you; another asked for a contact (Grant pledges to introduce his students to anyone he knows or has met, and they shop his LinkedIn profile for just that purpose). For every one of them, Grant seemed to have not only relevant but also scientifically tested, peer-reviewed advice: Studies show you shouldn’t move for location, since what you do is more important than where you do it. Studies show that people who take jobs with too rosy a picture get dissatisfied and quit. If you truly can’t make a decision, consider delegating it to someone who knows you well and cares about you. Is there anything else I can help you with? How else can I help? He was like some kind of robo-rabbi.

Grant might not seem so different from any number of accessible and devoted professors on any number of campuses, and yet when you witness over time the sheer volume of Grant’s commitments, and the way in which he is able to follow through on all of them, you start to sense that something profoundly different is at work. Helpfulness is Grant’s credo. He is the colleague who is always nominating another for an award or taking the time to offer a thoughtful critique or writing a lengthy letter of recommendation for a student — something he does approximately 100 times a year. His largess extends to people he doesn’t even know. A student at Warwick Business School in England recently wrote to express his admiration and to ask Grant how he manages to publish so often, and in such top-tier journals. Grant did not think, upon reading that e-mail, I cannot possibly answer in full every such query and still publish so often, and in such top-tier journals. Instead, Grant, who often returns home after a day of teaching to an in-box of 200 e-mails, responded, “I’m happy to set up a phone call if you want to discuss!” He attached handouts and slides from the presentation on productivity he gave to the Academy of Management annual conference a few years earlier.

For Grant, helping is not the enemy of productivity, a time-sapping diversion from the actual work at hand; it is the mother lode, the motivator that spurs increased productivity and creativity. In some sense, he has built a career in professional motivation by trying to unpack the puzzle of his own success. He has always helped; he has always been productive. How, he has wondered for most of his professional life, does the interplay of those two factors work for everyone else?

Organizational psychology has long concerned itself with how to design work so that people will enjoy it and want to keep doing it. Traditionally the thinking has been that employers should appeal to workers’ more obvious forms of self-interest: financial incentives, yes, but also work that is inherently interesting or offers the possibility for career advancement. Grant’s research, which has generated broad interest in the study of relationships at work and will be published for the first time for a popular audience in his new book, “Give and Take,” starts with a premise that turns the thinking behind those theories on its head. The greatest untapped source of motivation, he argues, is a sense of service to others; focusing on the contribution of our work to other peoples’ lives has the potential to make us more productive than thinking about helping ourselves.

“Give and Take” incorporates scores of studies and personal case histories that suggest the benefits of an attitude of extreme giving at work. Many of the examples — the selfless C.E.O.’s, the consultants who mentor ceaselessly — are inspiring and humbling, even if they are a bit intimidating in their natural expansiveness. These generous professionals look at the world the way Grant does: an in-box filled with requests is not a task to be dispensed with perfunctorily (or worse, avoided); it’s an opportunity to help people, and therefore it’s an opportunity to feel good about yourself and your work. “I never get much done when I frame the 300 e-mails as ‘answering e-mails,’ ” Grant told me. “I have to look at it as, How is this task going to benefit the recipient?” Where other people see hassle, he sees bargains, a little work for a lot of gain, including his own.

The message sounds terrific: Feel good about your work, and get more of it done, and bask in the appreciation of all the people you help along the way. Nice guys can finish first! (Now there’s research to prove it.) But I couldn’t help wondering, as I watched Grant race through his marathon day (even one of his mentors admitted, “He can be exhausting”), about the cost of all this other-directedness. If you are devoted to being available to everyone, all the time, how do you relax? How can you access the kind of creativity that comes from not being on task every waking moment? How do you make time for the more important relationships in your life?

As Grant’s office hours came to an end four and a half hours later, he patiently continued offering help until he finally had to close the door and tell a student to try him by phone; he would squeeze him in on his commute or by e-mail. But he would not say no.

The study of job design in the middle- and late-20th century focused on how to improve the drudge work of manufacturing: Grant is credited with reviving the field, shifting the thinking toward the more modern conditions of a service and knowledge economy. He first realized that his ideas about giving at work might actually yield quantifiable results when he was a 22-year-old graduate student at the University of Michigan, and he proposed a study set in a university fund-raising call center. Call centers, even on college campuses, are notoriously unsatisfying places to work. The job is repetitive and can be emotionally taxing, as callers absorb verbal abuse while also facing rejection (the rejection rate at that call center was about 93 percent).

The manager, Howard Heevner, did not have a lot of faith that Grant would be able to motivate his student-employees. He had already tried, in a previous job at a call center, the usual incentives — cash prizes, competitive games — and was generally unimpressed with the results. But Grant had a different idea. When he was an undergraduate at Harvard, he took a job selling advertisements for the travel guide series “Let’s Go,” but he was terrible at it. “I was a pushover,” he says in “Give and Take,” “losing revenues for the company and sacrificing my own commission.” Then he met another undergraduate whose job at “Let’s Go” was helping her pay her way through college. Suddenly the impact of his role became clear to him: without advertising revenues, the company could not make money, which in turn meant it couldn’t provide jobs to students who needed them. With that in mind, he was willing to make a harder sell, to take a tougher line on negotiations. “When I was representing the interests of students, I was willing to fight to protect them,” he writes. It would not be a mass-market psychology book if every anecdote did not have a dramatic ending: Grant eventually sold the largest advertising package in company history and less than a year later, at 19, was promoted to director of advertising sales, overseeing a budget of $1 million.

As a psychology major, Grant always hoped to do a study on the “Let’s Go” staff, in which the books’ editors and writers would meet with or read letters by people whose travels had been enhanced by their work. Would knowing how the books benefited others inspire them to work harder? Now, at the call center, Grant proposed a simple, low-cost experiment: given that one of the center’s primary purposes was funding scholarships, Grant brought in a student who had benefited from that fund-raising. The callers took a 10-minute break as the young man told them how much the scholarship had changed his life and how excited he now was to work as a teacher with Teach for America.

The results were surprising even to Grant. A month after the testimonial, the workers were spending 142 percent more time on the phone and bringing in 171 percent more revenue, even though they were using the same script. In a subsequent study, the revenues soared by more than 400 percent. Even simply showing the callers letters from grateful recipients was found to increase their fund-raising draws.

When Grant went back and talked to the callers about their improvement, many actively discounted the possibility that the brief encounter with a scholarship student helped. “Several of them were stunned,” Grant said. “Their response was, ‘Yeah, I knew I was more effective, but that was because I had more practice,’ or, ‘That was because I had a better alumni pool in that period — I got lucky.’ ” Eventually, having replicated the test five times, Grant was confident that he had eliminated other explanations. It was almost as if the good feelings had bypassed the callers’ conscious cognitive processes and gone straight to a more subconscious source of motivation. They were more driven to succeed, even if they could not pinpoint the trigger for that drive.

The study quickly raised Grant’s profile in his field, partly because it relied on hard data: dollars, as opposed to manager assessments or self-reports. “I don’t know the last time there was a study in our field that had such striking results,” says Stuart Bunderson, a professor of organizational behavior at Washington University. “In terms of an intervention that has practical significance and moves the needle on employee behavior — you don’t see them that often.” The intervention was also a manager’s dream: fast and practically free.

Over the years, Grant has followed up that study with other experiments testing his theories about prosocial motivation — the desire to help others, independent of easily foreseeable payback. In one study, Grant put up two different signs at hand-washing stations in a hospital. One reminded doctors and nurses, “Hand hygiene prevents you from catching diseases”; another read, “Hand hygiene prevents patients from catching diseases.” Grant measured the amount of soap used at each station. Doctors and nurses at the station where the sign referred to their patients used 45 percent more soap or hand sanitizer.

These studies, two of Grant’s best known, focus on typically worthy beneficiaries: needy students and vulnerable patients. But some of his other research makes the case that prosocial behavior is as applicable in corporate America as it is in a hospital or a university. “Think of it this way,” he said. “In corporate America, people do sometimes feel that the work they do isn’t meaningful. And contributing to co-workers can be a substitute for that.”

Take, for example, Grant’s study of workers at Borders who contributed to an employee-beneficiary fund managed by the staff, with Borders matching donated funds. The money was set aside for employees in need — someone facing a pregnancy that would put a strain on their finances, for example, or the funeral of a loved one. Interestingly, Grant found that it was not the beneficiaries who showed the most significant increase in their commitment to Borders; it was the donors, even those who gave just a few dollars a week. Through interviews and questionnaires, Grant determined that “as a result of gratitude to the company for the opportunity to affirm a valued aspect of their identities, they developed stronger affective commitment to the company.”

The study is uplifting and troubling at the same time: even Grant acknowledges the possibility of corporations playing off their employees’ generous impulses, as a sop to compensate for other failings — poor pay or demeaning work. (After all, if the employees at Borders had better benefits and pay, they might not have needed the emergency fund.) Jerry Davis, a management professor who taught Grant at the University of Michigan and is generally a fan of his former student’s work, couldn’t help making a pointed critique about its inherent limits when they were on a panel together: “So you think those workers at the Apple factory in China would stop committing suicide if only we showed them someone who was incredibly happy with their iPhone?”

Grant’s answer to these questions is academic: he tries to understand how these mechanisms function but does not necessarily advocate implementation. “I am also skeptical about the motivations of corporations,” he said. “My concern is ultimately for the success and well-being of people in organizations. To the extent that individual and group accomplishments and quality of work life contribute to profits, I’m happy, but that’s not my primary goal.”

For all his general interest in psychology, Grant doesn’t seem interested in digging too deeply into the origins of his own psyche. About his all-consuming desire to help, he says simply: “My mother has what she calls the fix-it gene. Maybe I just inherited it.”

He grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, raised by a lawyer, his father, and a teacher, his mother. He was an upbeat boy, though socially awkward and burdened by numerous food allergies and strong aversions — to haircuts, to bluejeans, to chocolate. He felt things deeply; those aversions were matched by equally consuming passions. An aspiring basketball player, he would not allow himself to go inside until he made 23 consecutive free throws, even if it meant missing dinner. (That he never made the high-school team is the one failure that still pains him.) On weekends, he played video games for so many consecutive hours — 10 was not unusual — that his mother called the local paper to complain about what the paper called, in the subsequent article, “The Dark Side of Nintendo.”

Grant started significantly losing his hair in his 20s, as if his head were trying to keep pace with his overall precociousness. Now almost entirely bald, he has a striking, monklike look. Though he comes across as charming and agreeable, there are still traces of the awkward boy he says he once was, a hint of discomfort in the smile he gives a student he runs into unexpectedly, a longstanding dread of parties (“unless they like psychology or magic tricks, in which case I’d come alive,” he said). He is aware of his own introverted tendencies, and some of his research involves the strengths of introverts at work.

For the most part, Grant has more than compensated for the shyness he felt growing up. Once phobic about speaking in public, he forced himself to lecture as much as he could as a graduate student, handing out feedback forms so he could methodically learn from his weaknesses. He developed strategies for socializing comfortably, even though, he said, “I feel uncomfortable when I’m in a situation and I don’t know what people want or expect of me.” Giving, he eventually realized, was a reliable way of mediating social interactions.

On the day I followed Grant as he hurried to his office hours at Wharton, I read something on his face that registered as more than just busyness; he seemed anxious. I wondered whether Grant was driven by the desire to help or a deep fear of disappointing someone.

“That is one astute observation!” Grant said when I asked him about that by e-mail. (With Grant, every observation is an astute one.) Grant often starts his research with observations about himself — “me-search,” they call it in the field — and he had conducted a study trying to determine which of those two impulses was more motivating. The answer turned out to be a combination of the two. “Givers motivate themselves to avoid complacency by focusing on the benefits to others if they succeed and worrying about disappointing them if they fail,” Grant wrote.

One of Grant’s roommates, he went on, once joked that he had a productive form of O.C.D. “He noticed that when I was anxious about something, I had a habit of throwing myself single-mindedly into tasks in which I felt responsible to others,” he said. “A few days later, my mentor, Brian Little, sent me an article by Ian McGregor, one of his doctoral students, who studied ‘compensatory conviction’: anxiety in one domain motivates people to dive into passionate pursuit in another. It was one of those crystallizing moments that triggered a ‘Yes, I want to be a psychologist!’ reaction — I was fascinated by how closely his theory and findings mapped onto my own experience.”

It’s not hard to imagine a pop-psych interpretation of Adam Grant: that his generosity might have its roots in some kind of need — maybe a need he feels, even more than the rest of us, to be liked. Or perhaps that he is channeling his extreme ambition into a feel-good form of achievement. Productive and happy, Grant could even be seen as a paradigm of Freud’s definition of mental health: aggression sublimated into work.

But he has never put much stock in psychoanalysis — if the work is not data-driven, he’s skeptical. “I think a lot of it is baggage that goes back to Freud, and Freud would always say that whatever is going on with you can be traced back to something that happened early in childhood with your mother,” he told me, by phone, as he was driving to work one day. “You can either accept that or be in denial. You can’t win!” He would rather simply understand himself as someone who gets a lot out of giving, then harness that feeling, study it and see how the mechanisms involved can inspire others to succeed.

One night Grant forwarded me a grateful e-mail from a student whose life, the student said, changed because of some advice Grant gave her. I commented that most people would be thrilled to receive one note like that in a lifetime. “I get several dozen a week,” Grant said. He agreed to send some my way. That evening, at around 8:30, the e-mails started coming —Thank you for our conversation the other day and for your genius. . . . I couldn’t have done this without you. . . . I cannot thank you enough for your time and insight. . . . I’m thrilled. And I have you to thank. . . . After the first 10, I was impressed; when they kept arriving, I was surprised. On and on, until almost 11, my e-mail kept pinging; when I awoke the next morning, I saw that he had forwarded me 41 e-mails from the preceding week, each one of them numbered for my convenience.

Was this compulsive behavior? “Not really,” Grant said. “I would see it as goal-oriented and focused.” He said the question had generated a new research idea for him: “How Prosocial Behavior Can Mitigate O.C.D. Tendencies.”

Grant’s book, incorporating several decades of social-science research on reciprocity, divides the world into three categories: givers, matchers and takers. Givers give without expectation of immediate gain; they never seem too busy to help, share credit actively and mentor generously. Matchers go through life with a master chit list in mind, giving when they can see how they will get something of equal value back and to people who they think can help them. And takers seek to come out ahead in every exchange; they manage up and are defensive about their turf. Most people surveyed fall into the matcher category — but givers, Grant says, are overrepresented at both ends of the spectrum of success: they are the doormats who go nowhere or burn out, and they are the stars whose giving motivates them or distinguishes them as leaders. Much of Grant’s book sets out to establish the difference between the givers who are exploited and those who end up as models of achievement. The most successful givers, Grant explains, are those who rate high in concern for others but also in self-interest. And they are strategic in their giving — they give to other givers and matchers, so that their work has the maximum desired effect; they are cautious about giving to takers; they give in ways that reinforce their social ties; and they consolidate their giving into chunks, so that the impact is intense enough to be gratifying. (Grant incorporates his field’s findings into his own life with methodical rigor: one reason he meets with students four and a half hours in one day rather than spreading it out over the week is that a study found that consolidating giving yields more happiness.)

The studies are elaborate, the findings nuanced — but it is easy to walk away from the book forgetting the cautionary tales about people who give too much and remembering only the wash of stories about boundless generosity resulting in surprising rewards: a computer programmer who built a Web site at no cost for music fans (one of whom turns out to be an influential figure in Silicon Valley); a financial adviser who travels to take on a client thought to be impoverished (only to find that person sitting on a significant fortune); the writers who start out working free on a project for a friend (and somehow end up among the most successful in Hollywood).

I had assumed that Grant, and the other examples of extreme givers in his book, were simply superhuman in one way or another — not only in the acute empathy that makes giving so rewarding for them but also in their unusual focus and stamina and mental-processing speed, traits that allow them to bend time and squeeze in more generosity than the rest of us. Grant, clearly, has some advantages beyond his propensity to help: more than one of his colleagues told me, for example, that when they cannot find the citation for a particular paper, they simply e-mail Grant directly, who is more reliable than Google and almost as fast (his childhood friends called him Mr. Facts).

But Grant believes that in terms of giving, we all have the same muscle; it’s just that he and the other givers in his book have exercised it more. In “Give and Take,” he cites a study that found that most people lose physical strength after enduring a test of will, like resisting chocolate-chip cookies when they are hungry. Typically, the study’s subjects could squeeze a handgrip for only 25 seconds after an exercise in willpower. But one group distinguished itself, squeezing the grip for 35 seconds after the test of will. They were people who were on the giving end of the other-directedness scale. “By consistently overriding their selfish impulses in order to help others, they had strengthened their psychological muscles, to the point where using willpower for painful tasks was no longer exhausting,” writes Grant of the study, conducted by researchers at Northwestern University. It seems too simple to assume that Grant just happens to be capable of great discipline across all facets of his life; all those exercises in will, he would argue, feed each other, with one making the others possible.

I like to think I am a typically helpful person, but after reading Grant’s book, I found myself experimenting with being more proactive about it. I started ending e-mails by encouraging people to let me know if I could help them in one way or another. I put more effort into answering random entreaties from students trying to place articles. I encouraged contacts seeking work or connections to see me as a resource.

And I did notice that simply avoiding the mental lag of deciding whether to help or not was helpful. At a minimum, Grant’s example presents a bright-line rule: Unless the person on the other end is a proven taker, just do it — collaborate, offer up, grant the favor.

The first time I exchanged those e-mails, I usually felt good; after the second exchange on a given topic, I thought perhaps I had done my duty. But I noticed that every offer of help I initiated or granted engendered four or five e-mails, at the end of which I sometimes felt surly and behind on my work — and then guilty for feeling that way. Worse, those exchanges often even ended with the person on the other end wanting to meet for coffee. Coffee! Now I struggled to find a way to say, gracefully, that there was no way I could meet for coffee — not this week or next or the week after that, because there are only so many hours in the day, and if I do not get home in time to make dinner, my children will dine on Pirate’s Booty and Smarties, which would not make me feel helpful or productive or good.

Children. It must be said that in the middle of a national debate about flexible hours and telecommuting, there is precious little in Grant’s book about work and family balance. The division of labor in Grant’s own marriage is very traditional; his wife, who has a degree in psychiatric nursing, does not work outside the home, devoting her time to the care of their two young daughters and their home. Grant would be an extraordinary giver under any circumstances; but it can only help that he doesn’t have to worry about running to the grocery store or renewing the car registration.

“Sometimes I tell him, ‘Adam — just say no,’ ” his wife, Allison, told me, referring to the hundreds of requests he gets every day. “But he can’t say no. That’s what he is. That’s his way.”

Grant is devoted to his family — he has dinner most nights at home and takes his daughter to a preschool activity on many afternoons. But he also works at least one full day on the weekend, as well as six evenings a week, often well past 11. Once, when Grant was asked to give a talk on productivity, he confessed to a mentor that for all his research, he was still not sure what he did that was any different from anyone else. It wasn’t exactly a mystery, his mentor told him: He worked more. “I made a commitment to talk about that more,” Grant said. He did not mean to suggest that everyone should work on weekends; he wanted them to be aware that they were making a choice, maybe even one they felt good about.

“The way I see it, I have several different roles,” he told me: teacher, scholar, adviser, friend, to name a few. “I’d be concerned if any of those roles took more of my time than my family.” Grant, of course, has conducted a study investigating whether giving behaviors at work translate into happiness at home. He found that people who felt they had contributed to others’ well-being at work did not always feel great at the end of the workday; but they usually did by bedtime, especially if they had reflected about their contribution in the intervening hours. It turns out that bringing your work home with you can be beneficial after all — if you’re thinking about it the right way.

A skeptic might read Grant’s book and conclude that extreme givers are just matchers who are in it, maybe even subconsciously, for the long run. Eventually, in ways that are predictable and unpredictable, the bounty returns to them. Grant’s giving instincts might be reflexive, but they do clearly contribute to his success. “The entire world feels like it owes him a favor — including me,” says Justin Berg, a doctoral candidate who studies creativity at Wharton and who has collaborated with Grant. “People rush at the opportunity to work with him.” And one round of giving enables another: when Grant calls on a work contact and asks her to meet with an undergraduate seeking work, chances are that contact is more than happy to enable Grant’s favor, because she has already been the beneficiary of more than one from him herself. The path to success is filled with people helping to clear the way.

From the point of creativity, Grant’s undiscriminating helpfulness also reaps professional benefits, Berg says. “The best ideas occur to people who are touching multiple worlds and domains. And in our field, he’s at the nexis of a lot of them.”

Because one study found that old friends and connections can be even more valuable as resources than current ones — because they intersect with different worlds and therefore have more fresh ideas — Grant has a tickler built into his calendar reminding him, once a month, to get in touch with a contact he likes but with whom he has temporarily lost touch. And he is highly efficient about his giving: he virtually never says no to the five-minute favor, something that will help someone out — an introduction, a quick suggestion — but cost him very little, relative to impact.

We were sitting in Grant’s office one afternoon talking about efficiency, when he said: “The truth is, I don’t care how many articles I publish or how many words I write. Productivity is an imperfect way of indexing how much I’m contributing, how I’m using my limited time to make the most difference.”

It wasn’t until I was transcribing the conversation a few days later that I realized that when he referred to his limited time, he wasn’t just talking about a busy schedule; there was a more existential tug in the phrase. I brought it up with him by phone.

“It’s the kind of thing I almost never talk about,” Grant said. “But my responsibility is to be open.” Mortality, he said, was the one subject that gave him something like panic attacks. He had always felt that way, since he was a brainy, sensitive kid playing basketball in his driveway, staring at the sun, suddenly terrified of what would happen when it burned out. That was why he first wanted to be a scientist — before he realized biology bored him and he would never reinvent physics — so he could help figure out how to extend life, or at least design the spacecrafts that he is sure, even now, will take us to safer planets if this one runs dry. Mortality, he said, is “something I can’t fix. I can’t do anything with or about it.” He can’t let himself think about it too much; he has lost days at a time to his anxiety, “to the point that it’s the equivalent of extreme physical pain.”

It struck Grant as odd that no one had ever tried to figure how the awareness of death motivates people’s behavior at work, and in 2009, he published a paper trying to understand the link between mortality and productivity: “The Hot and Cool of Death Awareness at Work: Mortality Cues, Aging and Self-Protective and Prosocial Motivations.” The study walks the reader through the fascinating field of death awareness, which measures how people respond to reminders of death, like a news clip about a deadly car crash. When and how, he asked, does the prospect of death become relevant to employees at work? Grant argued that when people’s reactions to reminders of death are “hot” — anxious and panicked — those workers tend to withdraw. But when they are “cool” — more reflective, as in response to chronic reminders, the kinds, for example, firefighters face — those workers would be more likely to “reflect on the meaning of life and their potential contributions.”

Grant wrote the paper, in part, to try to sort out his own hot and cool feelings on the subject. Contemplating the meaning of life doesn’t make him want to relax and work less. “I always go back to William James,” he said. “ ‘The greatest use of a life is to spend it on something that will outlast it.’ A big part of it is being remembered.” Besides, relaxing stresses him out. “For me, in my moments of idleness, I experience the most existential anxiety, so I like that every moment is scheduled, even when it’s having on my calendar that I’m going to watch a television show with my wife. It means my brain is engaged in other things, and it’s not going to be a terrifying evening.”

Grant would be the first to say that he is not purely altruistic — that pure altruism, giving without regard for one’s self-interest, perhaps does not even exist. When he writes those 100 student recommendations, he says, he gets the satisfaction of helping them succeed. But there are other happy byproducts of that work as well: he might end up the beneficiary of those students’ good will later on and possibly inspire them to try to do right by those who will eventually ask them for help. He will also have kept himself busy enough that he won’t have much time to spend agonizing over what happens when he can’t give anymore.

As he left the office after one of our meetings, Grant headed for his car, carrying another gift of gratitude: a twiggy box filled with organic jellies and dried fruit from the Environmental Defense Fund, to which he had recently spoken about how to motivate their fund-raisers.

On the way to the garage, Grant told me the story of a time that someone asked quite a lot from him. “So I got an e-mail out of the blue from a recent Ph.D. who wanted career advice,” Grant said. “And I spoke to him for a while on the phone — twice. But then, after that, he asks me if I could give him comments on his dissertation, and he sends me this thing that was like 300 pages long. It was one of those moments — yikes!”

Grant did not know this academic and was not an expert on the subject. This, I thought, was the long-awaited last straw, an occasion when Grant not only said no but also perhaps found the request itself galling. Surely he did not shun his family, his students, his ultimate Frisbee game, his research and his never-ending list of e-mail requests for the hours that it would have taken him to analyze a 300-page dissertation. Even Adam Grant must say no sometimes.

Grant said that he rarely feels resentful of such requests. “It’s on me if I want to say no,” he said. “I own my guilt.”

He did decide that in this case, the time it would take to read the paper would be excessive — and that indulging the impulse to read it all would be tantamount, in the logic of Grant’s thinking, to letting himself down, flouting his own rules of efficient giving.

“So I just skimmed it for the most important parts,” he said, and gave general feedback on those points. The author then reworked the paper completely and sent it back to Grant to read again. Grant, of course, complied.

“And guess what?” Grant said, breaking out in a smile. “The paper was great!”

Susan Dominus is a staff writer for the magazine. She last wrote about the actress Connie Britton.

Editor: Lauren Kern

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April 1, 2013 · 5:36 pm