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Nice Guys Finish First: Counterintuitive Career Advice from Wharton’s Top-Rated Prof

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Nice guys finish last. It’s an idiom that has been engrained into U.S. culture since baseball manager Leo Durocher first uttered the words in 1939. To get ahead in business you have to be cunning and ruthless, or so you may be led to believe.

Adam Grant, the youngest tenured professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and author of Give and Take, argues that nice guys (and ladies!) do often get ahead.

“Givers add value to a much wider range of people and then build a lot of social capital and trust and goodwill through their helping and contributions,” he says.

Grant applies this idea to his everyday life; he attempts to help his colleagues and even strangers, instead of using them to get ahead. As a result, he’s had an incredibly successful and productive career. According to the New York Times, “Grant, 31, is the youngest-tenured and highest-rated professor at Wharton. He is also one of the most prolific academics in his field. 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.”

Grant stopped by The Daily Ticker to discuss his secrets to a happy and successful career with Aaron Task.

  1. Don’t move for location. “There’s a lot of evidence that people tend to overestimate how important location is in shaping their happiness,” Grant tells The Daily Ticker. “Most of your happiness is determined by what you do, and not where you live.” When advising students and consulting with business leaders Grant makes sure that they take tasks, projects, and people into account — not just where they’ll be living.
  2. Don't have have unrealistic expectations of a new job. “It’s a pretty well documented finding called the realistic job preview,” says Grant. “When you have a really positive sense of what the job is going to be like that departs from the actual realty, your expectations are too high and you’re more likely to be disappointed.” Grant explains that this disappointment will reduce your satisfaction and also your productivity, which increases your likelihood of leaving the job. If you start a job with realistic expectations, you’re more likely to work hard and stay committed.
  3. If you can’t make an important career decision, delegate it to someone you trust. “There’s a good amount of evidence that when people are choosing for themselves they often struggle with comparing every possible option on all of the parameters,” explains Grant. If you find yourself making extensive plus and minus lists, you might not be using the most effective decision making tactics says Grant. “When people are choosing for others, research shows, they’re much more likely to zero in on the one or two important priorities and then help you evaluate the options on those priorities.”
  4. If you’re looking for work opportunities, reach out to people you barely know. “We often see recruiting as a process where we have to reach out to the people we trust most, who are close to us, who have our backs, who want to help us,” he tells The Daily Ticker. Instead, reach out to people to whom you are weakly tied. “Those close acquaintances, people you really know and trust, tend to know the same people and have the same knowledge that you do. Those people that are more distant are more likely to open up access to new people and opportunities.”

Do you have any productivity or job seeking tips? Do you think that it pays to be nice? Let us know!

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