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Adam Grant: Apprentice-Styled Challenges

Adam Grant of Wharton is among the 40 best business school profs under the age of 40.

Adam Grant of Wharton is among the 40 best business school profs under the age of 40.

At just 29 years of age, Professor Adam Grant of the Wharton School has been teaching for seven years and has held academic positions at Harvard, Michigan, and UNC-Chapel Hill. His drive as a professor at one of the world’s top business schools is to use his knowledge, research, and connections to make a difference in the lives and careers of his students.

My philosophy of teaching is quite simple: I seek to maximize my impact in educating and inspiring students. In management and leadership, I believe that the best way to learn a concept, theory, or framework is to apply it. I focus heavily on experiential learning, using exercises and activities that allow students to gain hands-on practice with key frameworks and concepts.

I view experiential learning as central to equipping students with the knowledge and skills that they will need to become effective leaders and managers. I also aim to blend together surprising findings from research evidence, discussions and debates drawing on students’ experiences, personal stories about mistakes and occasional successes from my own career, and relevant TV and movie clips. Much of my teaching style is informed by my previous work experiences. Performing as a magician taught me the value of surprises and well-crafted stories. Coaching springboard divers reinforced the importance of understanding my students’ goals, interests, and values so that I can tailor my courses to them. Leading an advertising team and negotiating with clients highlighted how much I cared about building long-term relationships. When a student enters my classroom, I view it as the start of a lifelong connection, where my contribution is to share my knowledge and networks in any way that might be helpful.

What mistakes have you made as a young professor? As a young professor, I’ve made more than my share of mistakes in the classroom. Early in my career, I imposed too much structure, and found it very difficult to deviate from a lesson plan or a debriefing agenda for an experiential exercise. What I learned very quickly was that being extremely linear was boring not only for my students, but also for me. I discovered that flexibility, improvisation, and spontaneity made the class substantially more interesting and engaging for all involved. It allowed space for students to raise unscripted questions and to bring their own professional experiences into the discussion, enriching the dialogue tremendously.