Pay Attention to Originality

Adam Grant & Greg Stevens at WorkHuman 2017

Listen to the latest episode of WorkHuman Radio with Adam Grant and Greg Stevens, embedded at the top of this post.

People can learn to increase their originality, developing creative ideas to improve the world around them and seeing those ideas through to reality. That’s the idea at the center of Adam Grant’s book, “Originals.”

It’s also an idea that reinforces one of the key pillars of the WorkHuman movement – the value created when employees bring more of themselves to work. Instead of conformity, employees express diversity of thought and perspective, ultimately contributing their best work through a positive employee experience.

One way to amplify these benefits is to harness the power of the crowd to “pay attention” to originality.

Complementing several strategies Adam discusses (e.g., having leaders speak last, seeking out authentic dissenters), paying attention means more people are on the lookout for originality and more people get noticed for those same qualities.

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to create barriers preventing that from happening, stifling both humanity and originality. Those barriers frequently stem from two interacting forces: an easy default of not doing or saying anything; and the complex process of converting an opportunity to give voice to a new idea into reality.

Regarding the latter, research generally supports the idea that individuals form judgments about the relative efficacy (probability of success), risks, and benefits associated with contributing. These judgements occur against the backdrop of internalized norms and socialization experiences – a complicated way of saying that the range of acceptable behaviors are learned over time, based on what an individual has observed or experienced.

Responding to each specific moment and work situation, employees will face a choice to either contribute or remain silent, to recognize others or to ignore them.

So how can organizations encourage more contribution and not less?

Social recognition provides a practical and actionable way to leverage these research findings. The more employees are paying attention, the more likely they are to notice and recognize colleagues for their original contributions – unique ways of approaching a challenge, bringing divergent thinking to complex problems, or implementing process innovations.

Each moment provides reinforcement of shared norms where unique perspectives are valued by one’s colleagues and the organization. The collection of these moments works to decrease perceptions of the risks, raise perceptions of the benefits, and shift the default toward decisions to contribute.

There are also broader social dynamics to consider. Our research with clients has consistently found that those receiving recognition are more likely to recognize others. In other words, having someone pay attention to your original contributions may mean you are more likely to pay attention to those contributions of others. Where originality appears to be a numbers game, having these dynamics works to everyone’s advantage.

If we want to encourage more originality in our organizations, learning how may be as straightforward as having everyone pay more attention.


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Greg Stevens Greg Stevens (2 Posts)

Greg Stevens is a Lead Researcher with Globoforce’s WorkHuman Research Institute. He combines research and analytical expertise to better understand and contribute thought leadership in employee recognition, culture management, work engagement, and employee well-being. He is actively involved in a range of collaborations with client organizations, leading research institutes, and industry/academic experts. He received his Ph.D. in industrial/organizational psychology from Auburn University. He is a member of the Society for Industrial/Organizational Psychology and has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, Human Resource Development Review, and Journal of Business Ethics, among others.