Getting to Yes, And

Adam Alter: Anatomy of a Breakthrough


Adam Alter

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Kelly welcomes back NYU marketing professor Adam Alter to the podcast to talk about his new book, “Anatomy of a Breakthrough: How to Get Unstuck When It Matters Most.”

One of your points in the book is that we don’t get fed enough stories of when things don’t work.

“We all get stuck. We all fail. We all try things that don't work out. And so the stories that are interesting, that flow to the top of the surface, end up being the stories of success. And so what gets buried is that mountain of less successful anecdotes. And that's problematic. Because since we all experience so much stuckness, if we come to view the world through this lens, that suggests that everyone else is succeeding but us, because that's the stuff that ends up making its way to us. That's not very good for confidence, and not very good for our coping strategies and coping skills when we do face being stuck.”

I thought it was interesting when you talk about how the middle of an endeavor can be a danger area for getting stuck.

“Imagine that you're sailing between the US and England. There's a big period of time when you're in the middle of the ocean, and your progress is hard to monitor. You don't really have a sense of moving forward, and that's demotivating. And so, in these extended goals, there's that lull in the middle. And then, as you approach your goal, you can start to see it taking shape, and so you get re-energized. But, for very long extended goals, that middle period can be very long. It can be a big chunk of the whole goal experience. And if you don't remotivate and get back into doing things the way they should be done, it's possible that you'll never actually reach the end.”

And knowing what you know about getting stuck in the middle, that can help you communicate for effectively – like when you’re giving a talk, right?

“This is what I tell my students as well, that when you're writing talks, the best talk you can give is the one that has almost no intro and almost no conclusion. It's really just bang! Here we are, you know? You capture me immediately and let's go from there. You can't do that in an extreme way as an academic. You have to set the stage. But I think in the world of improv and in the world of acting and in the world of anything where you're sharing a narrative, the human tendency is to try to go back to ‘...and this is how I was...this is where I was born.’ And let me tell you, we spend much too long on that stuff.”

Photo credit: John Fitzgerald

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