Podcast: focus on values or principles to foster innovation


May 24, 2020


This post is a summary of the insights and guidelines from an interview with Adam Grant on the Hidden Brain podcast. Adam talks about his book Originals. The discussion focuses on innovators and the challenges they face. He describes what makes an original, how parents can nurture originality in their children, and the potential downsides of non-conformity.

I’m experimenting with learning by listening instead of reading (which I think is my default mode). I had to listen to the podcast twice to distill the insights and guidelines. In this case I noticed more insights than guidelines. I’ll read the book in the future and see if I find more guidelines.

Here are the key insights I gleaned from the conversation:

  • Innovators often procrastinate. It’s how they incubate ideas.
  • Innovators manage fears and doubts differently. They hate taking risks. They hedge their bets and hesitate. He named TS Eliot and the founders of Google as examples.
  • Innovators have lots of bad ideas, that's how they get to the good ones. He mentioned Shakespeare as an example.
  • Innovators tend to have broad rather than deep experience.
  • They question the status quo.
  • Their fear of regret or failing to try overcomes their fear of failure.
  • They are commissioned or rise to the occasion. He mentioned Michelangelo and Martin Luther King.
  • There's little correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.
  • Women and racial minority groups are less likely to speak up when they have original ideas.
  • Later born children tend to be more creative/innovative. This is called niche picking. In studies of more than 300 pairs of brothers in baseball, the younger brother was more likely to steal a base.
  • In a study of architects, parents who focussed more on values than rules raised more innovative children which brings us to the main guideline in the conversation (below).
  • With strengths and virtues you can have too much or too little. He calls it the Goldilocks effect. Balanced teams need innovators but also followers and those who are good at execution.


When helping someone develop, focus on values more than rules because that will enable them to think for themselves rather than learn to follow.

Examples & Stories

Grant mentions a study of architects and his own family. The specific values he mentions are:

  • Excellence is important
  • Caring about how actions have an impact on others

When the architects grew up they “had a very clear set of guiding principles”. Children from families that were more focussed on rules learned to follow and accept the status quo.

In his own family when Grant finds himself accused of making a rule, he tries to find the value behind the rule. For example, when he asks his kids to stay at the dinner table until everyone is finished, he emphasizes respect and the value of having everyone to share a family meal.


Helping someone develop, either a child, student, a work colleague or indeed yourself.


Try to identify and explain the value behind the rule. Explain why it’s important.


A focus on values gives people a clear set of guiding principles, helps them think for themselves and be more innovative.

Notes on terminology

The words value, rule, principle and guideline can have a number of meanings.

In an article about the difference between principles and values, Keith Norris has a different interpretation:

… principles are rules or laws that are permanent, unchanging, and universal in nature. Values are internal and subjective, and they may change over time.

Norris refers to Stephen Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. He defines values as:

… beliefs and opinions that people hold regarding specific issues or ideas, and are ultimately internal, subjective, and malleable.

He recommends:

If you’re looking to create a timeless sense of purpose and to shape the overall mission of your life, then you should use principles. Establishing a set of principles creates a compass to which you can refer whenever something is in doubt or you need to take a stand or evaluate any particular opportunity, behavior, or situation.

To me it seems Norris/Covey’s principles are similar to Grant’s values and the concept of guideline we’re using in this blog.

The bigger picture

This is an example of a guideline that we use in this blog/publication. Guidelines are also known as:

  • best-practices
  • patterns
  • principles
  • tips
  • hacks
  • mental models
  • directives
  • how-tos

In future posts we’ll curate individual guidelines or glean collections of them from articles, books and other content. We’re planning posts on:

  • Productivity
  • Starting a business
  • Managing cash flow in a growing business

If you’d like to write for LearnShareDo, please send an email to (write at learnsharedo dot com).

Thanks for reading! If you have any other examples or feedback please comment/follow/share below or on: twitter, medium or linkedin.

Credits: thanks to @ameen_fahmy for making the above photo available freely on Unsplash

Disclosure: some links in this post may use Amazon affiliate links.

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Welcome to Learn Share Do. Here we try to share and curate knowledge that you can use in life or business.

This knowledge can be in the form of:

  • Guidelines / Patterns / Principles / Tips – individual morsels of knowledge you can apply
  • Content Summaries – collections of guidelines from books, articles and other long-form content

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If you’d like to write for us, please contact us via email at write@learnsharedo.com