The power of the blindingly obvious

To facilitate change management, the organizational psychologist Adam Grant had been focusing on unexpected, counterintuitive, overlooked insights. Until, that is, Google’s data analysts turned his principles upside down, leading him to see the value of the blindingly obvious.

Data analysts at Google conducted an internal study on how to integrate new recruits. The goal was to draw up a checklist to be used to onboard new workers effectively.

The first tip was: “Meet your new hires on their first day” — an insight so obvious that it left Grant speechless. Did Google really need to conduct a study to come up with a piece of advice that was so self-evident? Yes … and no. Grant acknowledges that the Google researchers, in confirming what we already know, had done the opposite of what we usually do when trying to initiate change: identify an overlooked solution, or try to challenge conventional wisdom.

“Findings don’t have to be earth-shattering to be useful,” he writes. “In fact, I’ve come to believe that in many workplaces, obvious insights are the most powerful forces for change.” Grant has found that confirming what people already believe, things that may seem like obvious insights, overcomes three barriers to change: resistance to new data (“But that’s not what my experience has shown”), resistance to change (“We’ve always done things that way”), and “the knowing-doing gap” — though managers may know what actions they should take to be effective, actually doing them is another matter.

What sort of manager doesn’t meet new recruits on their first day? Grant had wondered. He discovered the answer: a busy one. Sometimes managers just need to be reminded of what good managers do to follow suit. By training and evaluating managers on very basic skills, Google was able to improve the performance of 75 percent of its worst managers.

Learn more :

The Surprising Value of Obvious Insights” by Adam Grant (MIT Sloan Management Review, Spring 2019).