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Welcome to the Knowledge Project, I'm your host, Shane Parrish, the curator behind the Farm Street blog, which is an online community focused on mastering the best of what other people have already figured out. The knowledge project is a place where we look at interesting people and uncover the frameworks they use to make better decisions, live life and make an impact on this episode. I have one of my favorite people, Adam Grant. Adam has been Wharton's top rated teacher for so many years, they should just name the award after him.
He's also one of the most influential management thinkers. Oh, and in his spare time, he's written New York Times best selling books, Give and Take Originals, and co-authored Option B with Sheryl Sandberg. We talk about the differences between givers and takers, what he learned about coming up with creative ideas and how he fosters resilience in his kids. We also explore the replication crisis in psychology and how he manages his work life balance. Adams answers will change how you see yourself at work, how you parent and how you live.
I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.
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Intel can provide your company with every touchpoint, including telephone, email, chat and social media. As the listener of this podcast, you can get up to ten thousand dollars off if you go to Intel dotcom slash and that's, I think, TEFL dotcom slash Shane. Adam, thank you so much for being on here, I have so much respect for all of your work and your writing and your thinking, I'm really excited about this conversation.
Thank you. And I'm a loyal reader, so it's really cool to be listening to you and hopefully not at all.
Can you tell me a little bit about what you do?
Oh, I guess an organizational psychologist and I split my time between a bunch of different roles. I'm a professor at work.
I teach an MBA class as an undergrad class leadership, teamwork, organizational behavior. That's all in the fall and then in the winter, spring, summer. I'm an author, speaker, consultant and occasional recovering data geek. How's that? How do you find time for a, um, I think the I mean, the cycling helps, right? So I don't get a lot done. That's not teaching related in the fall, but a whole semester of intense engagement with students leaves me with a bunch of new questions that I'm really excited to explore and research projects in writing.
And then, you know, as I go and speak about new ideas, I get new ideas back and it feeds into changing my class each fall. So it's really nice to kind of juggle these different hats. How do you filter which problems you work on, like so you walk away from students with probably hundreds of different ideas, how do you pick the ones that you're going to focus your attention on?
So like you keep an idea journal and it's a little notebook that I carry around in my pocket. And every week I transcribe the like the little notes that are handwritten into a word document, super high tech.
And then about once a month, I'd like to just review the notes. And usually I do it when I'm I've given myself permission or freedom to work on something new and creative because I feel like I've actually finished something that was sort of more in completion mode. And then as I go through it, what I'll notice is if an idea come up more than once, that's either a sign that it's really interesting or that I'm just depressingly consistent and sort of focus on the ideas that I've written about multiple times without even remembering having done it.
And then I also try to filter a little bit on if we understood this problem better or if we had a way to tackle it, how much of a difference would it make for people's lives, especially their lives at work? And the more important it feels of all the ideas that I find personally interesting, more likely I am to pursue it.
So are you doing research after you start pursuing those ideas and then a book follows or walk me through that kind of process of of how we actually get to consume all of your your amazing thoughts. So often what happens is I feel like a chunk of my job is basically to read all the interesting new research that's coming out in the realm of work in psychology and figure out how it can be applied to to make our work lives less miserable and help organizations become less unproductive.
And then oftentimes I'll be either in the classroom with students or I'll be out doing research and consulting in an organization, or I'll be speaking on stage and I'll see something or hear something or experience something that directly contradicts what I've been reading in research or that's just totally uncaptured and research. And so then you start doing a bunch of digging to figure out, like, we'll wait. Is it is it just that I've missed the data representing this or did the data not exist?
And if it's the latter, then if I'm interested enough in it and I feel like I have something important to say about it, then I'll start a research project on it. And it could be months. It could be years before the project sees the light of day.
And then I guess over over the period of several years, I start to notice patterns like I'm revolving around some similar questions or like developing a philosophy that that's bigger than one study or one insight. And then that might suggest that there's an article to be written or a book to be written, and then eventually I decide to do it.
How long did it take you to write your first book? So for give and take, there are two answers. One is that it took me about four months and the other is that it took me about a dozen years, OK, the four months is like the actual intensive writing period. I do a lot of my writing in bursts. And so once I had the idea and an outline together, I spent several months pulling together all the research that I wanted to cover, a lot of which was collecting dust in my head.
But, you know, I need to go out and find some new studies that I wasn't familiar with yet. And then also playing journalists to find the people that I wanted to interview and observe to really bring their stories to life and try to make the data sing. And that was several months of prep. And then I sat down and it was like about four months writing the first draft of the whole thing and then several months after that, editing it.
And so from from idea to like a finished product, it was about a year. But give and take especially, it was like I'd spent a dozen years doing research on the topic. And so the ideas were developing. I was doing the studies and I guess it was a long time coming.
Is that the one that you correct me if I'm wrong, but you wrote a book. It was like one hundred and five thousand words and then you started all over again.
Thanks for reminding me of that. I was really looking forward to reliving that experience. But yes, I did write over a hundred thousand words. So what happened was this was the spring of 2011. I got tenure and a couple of weeks later, a friend and colleague, Barry Schwartz, reached out and asked if I wanted to work on a book with him. And I was I was just incredibly excited about the opportunity. I love the paradox of choice.
Which I know you're a fan of. And I don't.
Barry, for a few talks, we then wrote a paper together and he was one of my favorite collaborators and I just thought would be so much fun to try to take, you know, important ideas and bring them out into the world, you know, more than just in the classroom with a few hundred students per year.
And I was getting ready to say yes. And I happened to mention it in a lab meeting with a group of my undergraduates. And they they basically refused to let me do it.
They were like, look like we will drop out of your lab.
We will disown you as a professor. I'm like, can you even do that? What does that mean? But they just said, look, if if you're going to write a book, you should start with your own ideas, you know, not not work on, you know, sort of a new topic with with somebody who you love collaborating with you. You have a worldview and it's not out there where anybody can access it. So I eventually decided that they were right and toyed around with a bunch of different ideas, finally decided that the give and take was the idea that I was most passionate about.
And once I had a vision for it, I just I started working on the proposal and accidentally wrote the book. Over a summer. I accidentally wrote a book.
I sat down with a glass of wine and came out on the other side with a fully formed manuscript.
It definitely didn't happen that way.
I woke up in the morning and I basically wrote until it was dinnertime and then I would start the next. Sometimes I'd have more ideas later at night and then repeat the next day. And I just had so much I guess I had a lot that I wanted to say. I had a lot of studies that I wanted to cover and I finished it and I sent it to my literary agent. It's like, yeah, no, no one would want to read.
This is not an academic. You need to start over. And you did it like you teach, not like you write research papers.
It's like, oh yeah, death forgot about that.
That was when I started actually organizing all the different things that I wanted to say and going out and finding stories. And so that was like the false start before the real book.
Well, whatever the process was, I mean, givers and takers turned out amazing. So maybe you should do that for all your books.
I don't know. Thank you. I wouldn't wish it on anyone. I definitely don't plan to do it that way again.
But there was there was something useful about that process, which was, you know, I often find I have to write a longer summary of a study before, like before I really start to distill what the core is or why I care about it. And that's especially true for for the areas that I know really well. You know, like Steven Pinker would call it the curse of Knowledge, where for years I didn't even teach my own research in the classroom.
I spent I think I spent a good six or seven years literally not saying a word about givers and takers when I taught because I just didn't know what was interesting about it to other people. And I didn't have a concise way of articulating what I felt was a deep insight. But, you know, like sort of hard to translate out of academic language. And I've found that often when I read somebody else's work, I'm like, oh, yeah, you know, there's a kernel of this idea that can be sort of summarized in a in a sentence or a paragraph and then, you know, then we can start to bring in the interesting nuances.
But with my own work especially, I found that I sometimes had to write the longer summary and then, like, buried toward the end of it was, oh, that sentence is what I was just trying to say in four pages. Here we go.
Let's dive into givers and takers a little bit because I think there was actually three types of people. All right, givers, takers, managers, can you can you walk me through the differences just so everybody starts on the same playing field here?
Yeah, I think about these styles of interaction and they're kind of grounded in the motives that we bring to the table every time we talk to another person. So givers are people who are constantly asking, what can I do for you? They're excited to add value and help other people. And sometimes that means knowledge sharing or mentoring or just showing up earlier, staying late support other people, the opposite of a giver as a taker. And that's somebody who's constantly trying to figure out what can you do for me?
Come out ahead in every interaction.
And takers are really great at volunteering for the projects that are interesting, visible and important, and then dumping the grunt work on everybody else.
But of course, they love to walk away with the lion's share of credit for every collective achievement, which is why I know we all adore working with takers.
And then what I found was most people are they kind of hover in the middle of this spectrum is as matters. I found that over half of people identify this as their primary interaction style at work where they say, look, I don't want to be too selfish. I don't want to be too generous. So I'm going to I'm going to trade favors evenly.
If you do something for me, I'll do something for you. It's almost like they're they're accountants in relationships and they're keeping track of credits and debits to make sure that everything is fair and square.
And even so is the default of a match or something like go positive, go first or is it wait and see or how does that. So that can go either way, and I guess I would love to see some more data on this, but my intuition is that, you know, a lot of people adopt matching as like the way to sort of play it safe.
And yeah, when you look at core values, people tend to gravitate more a little bit in the taker give direction. And so I'm guessing that if somebody deep down is more of a taker and believes that other people are selfish and I've got to put myself first, then they would probably wait to see what the other person contributes. Whereas if you have somebody who would prefer to be a giver but is afraid of becoming a doormat, that person would say, all right, look, you know, like I'll start out being a giver.
And then, Shane, if you screw me, then I'm going to like I'm going to realize that I need to be immature all the time, which which is a smart habit in general. Like if you're a giver, don't be a giver with takers. But I think that oftentimes what happens is matchers over generalize that and they're like, oh, like I always have to have to have these, like, fair trades, which ends up feeling really transactional and shortsighted.
Right. And optimizing for the short term usually almost never optimises for the long term.
Actually, to what extent is organizational culture play a role in I mean, even if we're predisposed to have some sort of war on the spectrum between, say, givers on one end and takers on the other and say matchers are in the middle, we're all predisposed to probably somewhere in there. But then we have an environmental impact, which would be culture or organizational norms. To to what extent do you think that that impacts our ability to receive feedback and change styles or switch our default?
It's I mean, culture is huge. We know that. We know that, for example, if you start out in a really competitive team and then you try to shift the norms to become more cooperative, it doesn't work. And you end up with this pattern of cutthroat cooperation where I'm pretending to help you, but I'm really looking for ways to stab you in the back. Whereas if you go the reverse, if you start out cooperative and then you say, all right, we're going to move more competitive, people naturally fall into this pattern of friendly competition.
It's like, yeah, you know, we're going to like I'm going to try to beat you, but I'm really hoping that you push me to raise my game. And afterward we'll go out for drinks and maybe the loser buys the winner dinner. And it's so interesting that trying to get to that same place, it doesn't work if you start out with more taking than giving norms. Right.
And I think that a lot of a lot of what we see with with the impact of culture is around the the theories that people have about what it takes to be successful.
And I guess the tragedy that I've seen in a lot of organizations across sectors is you have these leaders who say, look, you know, we want people to be collaborative.
We want them to help each other and problem solve together. And then we're only going to measure and reward individual performance.
And so you end up basically dis incentivizing people to act like givers. And so a lot of people then check their values at the office door and they say, look, this is you know, this is not a safe way to operate here. And if you if you see that happen systematically over time, you'll build a culture where every new person who walks in the organization will look up the hierarchy and say, I don't see any givers who are extremely successful here.
Right. And that may not mean that I have to be a taker, but it sure means I have to be you know, I have to be careful not to be generous. And I think the I guess it's to me, it's one of the great it's one of the great tragedies of organizations that we end up even in organizations that have Majura or give or cultures.
Oftentimes, if they're not strong, if those cultures aren't strong, you end up with successful takers still being the most visible people that I can kind of see that happening.
I mean, I've worked in organizations that definitely feel along those lines. Do you think there's a way to change that? How do you go about changing a culture where it might be negatively competitive?
Well, I think the first thing that that you do is you actually do have to think about your reward system. So it's tempting to say, look, this is you know, this is all about culture, but culture is influenced by structure.
And I don't want to incentivize any any take her to become a better faker and say, look like now, you know, now we're going to measure all your helping behaviors in the hopes that now you will get better at fooling people into thinking that, you know, that you're really passionate about making other people successful.
What I want to see organizations do is take away the disincentives to being a giver and say, look, of course, we value this behavior and it's not going to be punished. It's not going to hurt your career. It's not going to, as I saw it, one elite consulting firm result in a situation where people tell you, you have to you have to be more selfish if you want to make partner. You know what I think?
I think there are lots of interesting examples. The most fascinating one I've seen is that Corning, where they made the Gorilla Glass for the iPhone and the iPad and they had this whole. Fellows program, where they say, look, if you're a scientist or an engineer and you're a great innovator, we want to motivate you to stay by giving you a job for life in a lab for life.
And then the question is, how do you how do you become a Corning fellow? And one of the first criteria is, are you the first author in a patent that's worth at least one hundred million US dollars?
And a lot of companies would stop there. If you can drive one hundred million US and revenue, then we're going to lock you up for life, throw away that key. Right.
But Courtney says we're worried the copyright takers will pollute the culture. And we also recognize that their contributions will dwindle over time, especially when they have a lifetime job security.
So we're going to we're going to say there are other criteria, too, which include are you a supporting author and other people's patents?
And I think this is genius because it often takes about a decade to get a patent in the world of glass.
And there aren't a lot of takers who are willing to have the patience to say, you know what, not going to pretend to help you for the next nine years in the hopes that you will reward my generosity by making me the forty third author on your part.
It's the people who day in and day out are helping each other and solving problems for each other and sharing their knowledge who, who, who support each other's innovation.
And the key for Corning is they say, look, you got to do both. You have to show that you can drive your own success, but you have to also show that you can elevate the success of other people. And, you know, the question that I love to work with leaders on is what is your equivalent of later patent authorship? That's that's a real indicator of who the day in, day out givers are.
When I read the book, one of the most surprising things that came across to me originally was kind of that if you think of a Gaussian almost distribution of outcomes, the givers tend to move towards the tails for more extremes, kind of success or failure.
Am I remembering that right?
Yeah, it was it was a big surprise for me, actually. I had all this evidence that the givers in most of the organizations I happened to be studying were more successful than the takers are matters. And I think it was because at the time I had been studying jobs where teamwork and service were huge. And so, you know, nobody wants to take her on their team. And over time, you think you figure out how to make sure that takers don't succeed.
And I don't know about you, but like, I don't want my doctor or lawyer or real estate agent or insurance agent to be a taker either.
So it was clear that in teamwork and service jobs, there was there was a real give or advantage. But there was this other body of evidence showing that the givers often burned out and they were more likely to get exploited because they they were too trusting and they ended up helping other people too much or they sacrificed their own goals to to be there for others. And finally, as I took a closer look at the data, I found that for salespeople, for engineers and even medical professionals, the givers were overrepresented on both extremes of the success spectrum.
They made up a disproportionate number of the worst performers and of the best performers, which just pure probabilistically. You would expect matchers to be overrepresented on both of those extremes because more people are matchers, then givers or takers. And yet you did find pretty consistently that at givers ended up either failing big or succeeding big. And at first I thought that was really just a question of ability, like givers who are extremely smart or who are extra skilled or talented in an area which would obviously, quote unquote, like they would get away with it.
And, you know, there is a piece of the story that's explained by ability. But even after controlling for cognitive ability tests for various kinds of skill metrics, the sort of the polarization of Gever performance held up, and it turned out to be much more a question of strategy.
So the choices you make every day about who you help, when you help, how you help really matter in shaping whether you know that that actually is detrimental or beneficial to your own career.
And how much of those are conscious, would you say, versus kind of like just the circumstances that were put in? Well, I think I think for most people initially, it's not conscious, right, they have a default style and, you know, to borrow some some Bob Cialdini language, they're just kind of in click wear mode where, like, they find themselves in a situation, it's like default habit comes up. You can think about this in terms of heuristics and biases.
Right. So givers have a like trust. First ask questions later heuristic. Often when they start out, you know, it's hard to be generous consistently unless you believe that that's a safe way to operate in the world. Right. Takers have a heuristic that's sort of the opposite, which says like other people are always out to get you.
Or, you know, I guess Oliver Williamson, if you're a transaction cost economics person, which I am definitely not, he would say, like, you know, there's you have to watch out for for opportunism tinged with guile and that anybody at any moment might be out to, you know, to screw you over.
And, you know, I think for for matchers, it starts out often as a more conscious strategy, you know, like, OK, like, I want to make sure that I am kind of fair to other people. And, you know, I don't get more than I deserve, but I also don't get less than I deserve. And then I think over time people get feedback and some givers get reinforced. They find that they're able to help others in ways that that don't end up being self sacrificing or they find that they're you know, they're giving behaviors are just really valued and valuable to others.
And then other people just end up burning out or they get taken advantage of one too many times. And that means you either adjust your style or you adjust your strategy. And, you know, I never really thought about this out loud before.
I've also never thought about it in my head before. So you're only getting the bad thoughts.
But basically, I think what happens to a lot of people is they change their style when they should be changing their strategy. So I'm a giver, I, I get exploited over and over again. Then I'm like, aha. Like being a giver as dangerous as opposed to. Well, there's nothing wrong with being a giver and I should just rethink the way that I do it.
I was just thinking like it sounds like everybody, the seeds of resentment are planted in everybody but takers and said that eventually if you work with enough takers and there's probably some sort of threshold, but you slowly over time, it just becomes more and more resentful. And like you said, instead of changing your strategy, you maybe change your default and then you become even more resentful because then you become that person is constantly looking over their shoulder, going like everybody is going to screw me over, even though you're predisposed to help people.
Yeah, I think there's a lot of truth to that. And, you know, as I think about this idea of resentment, there was a a partner at a professional services firm who said give and take, and came to me and said, you know, it's really interesting how my my views of takers have changed over my career, he said. So like, I you know, I think of myself as a giver, which is a good qualifier, because if he had just said, I'm a giver, I would have been like, nope, dude, you're a taker.
A little too quick to claim the generosity label as opposed to trying to earn it. But, you know, when he said, I think of myself as a giver, it was clear, OK, you know, he's saying like, I value helping others. I enjoy it. You know, I want to be the kind of person who does that with no strings attached.
And he said, early in my career, I really resented takers because, you know, I felt like they were like they were trying to cheat the system. And, you know, like a sustainable system is one where, you know, it's all givers because, you know, if everybody helps everybody, then you don't have to worry about trusting anybody.
So your relationships and even your work, they just become way more efficient.
And you also then that means if everybody is a giver, you can go to anybody you you might want to, even if you don't have a close relationship with them. And that means you have a better shot at reaching the most connected person or the best expert. And, you know, if the whole system works that way, then we can all go to the people who are best placed to help us. That's that's the way that the world should work.
And these takers are screwing us and they're forcing us to have more and more matchers in the system who will kind of wield the sort of justice and punish takers. And, you know that that shouldn't have to be that way. And he said now this is sort of reflecting on about a 30 year transition. He said now and I need a taker.
I just feel sorry for them. What kind of life do you have to have lived to believe that everybody is out to get you and that every single interaction you have, if you don't come out ahead, then somehow you're going to fall way behind. And he said, like, it's just got to be like really unpleasant to live in this person's head.
And it tracks with something that the Bob Sutton is fond of pointing out, which is like, look, if you're if you're a taker professionally and you manage to achieve success, you're still a loser in life.
Yeah, true enough. And you're probably not very happy. Right?
These are the people that I think one. Do over at the end of their life when they realize that they don't have a lot of meaningful friendships or relationships, that the people who leave the organization and they seem to have a lot of friends, but then they all disappear the next day.
Yeah, I think there's a lot of truth to that, although I am curious about the time horizon that it takes for that, you know, that regret to kick in, because Jennifer Crocker has some data suggesting that sort of day to day takers experienced more pleasure than givers do because they get to make every choice is exactly what they want.
Whereas, you know, givers end up taking on more of the burden of responsibility and duty and saying, you know, look, maybe it wasn't that fun to do this thing for another person. But, you know, it's really important to me to live those values or I care about this person or, you know, yeah, it'll cost me a little bit of time, but it'll benefit them a lot more. And so, like, I actually love I love this cost benefit calculus that I found that a lot of givers use viscerally, which is like it's not like to the benefits to me outweigh the cost to me.
It's do the benefits to others outweigh the costs to me. And, you know, I think that that in the in the short term, that can be unpleasant. And if you spend every hour of your day doing that for a few weeks, it's not surprising the takers will seem happier.
But, yeah, I mean, in terms of in the long run, building meaningful, lasting relationships, feeling like you contributed to something bigger than yourself, I feel like takers are at a major disadvantage.
There was to as you were saying, that one thing that I was thinking was kind of if you're going through that and you're doing something that is maybe a high personal cost but beneficial to everybody else, and you're kind of like sucking it up and doing it because it's the right thing to do, you would kind of internally search and find meaning in that, and then you would connect to maybe the broader picture or the meaning of the organization or what you're trying to accomplish.
And you would attach yourself to something outside of yourself. But I mean, I'm just thinking out loud. I had a question I wanted to dive into, which is, is there empirical evidence that a team of all givers will outperform like a team of a mixed team or like, how do you think of it that?
So I think you will you will appreciate this as a fellow Charles Darwin fan.
So Darwin wrote about this. He didn't have any data for it, but it was I was going back and sort of rereading like what you know, there's there's this sort of like when we use the word we're Darwinian, it almost suggests that everybody's a taker, right, where there's this survival of the fittest mentality. And that means, like, if I don't if I don't defeat you in some way, then you you might end up defeating me. And yet Darwin himself wrote that I think the direct quote was that if you had a tribe where they were always ready to aid one another and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, they would be victorious over most other tribes.
And this would be natural selection. And that that was Darwin basically hinting at the idea of group selection, which has been incredibly controversial in evolutionary psychology and biology over the last half century or so. I think Davisson Wilson has made a very compelling case that group selection, at least under certain conditions, is real. And it's not hard to figure out why this this might be because if you have a group of all takers, it's basically every man or woman for themselves and you end up with these constantly suboptimal decisions and allocations of effort where instead of figuring out what's going to be best for the tribe, everybody is basically maximizing their own outcomes, which leads to all kinds of externalities and inefficiencies.
Whereas if everybody's a giver, you sit down and you can say, all right, what does the group need to be successful? And then you sort of match people's roles to their unique expertise or skill set or our contribution.
And that that's basically a foreshadowing of what we now have about now.
Thirty five years of evidence for which the main way this gets studied in my field of management and organizational psychology is, is organisational citizenship behaviour, which are all the the behaviours that are are not part of accomplishing the core task, but are still relevant to the functioning of the team or the organisation. So it's speaking up with ideas and suggestions, going the extra mile with your effort. It's sportsmanship. It's showing loyalty to other people. It's helping out day to day.
And if you look at the aggregate of those behaviours, they are critical to team and organisational effectiveness. And, you know, a lot of organisations recognise this. We know, for example, that if you look at the meta analysis that Patricof and colleagues have published, that the amount of time you spend helping others is as critical to your job performance as how well you do your actual tasks.
They carry about equal weight in in the average performance evaluation and.
This is data from over fifty one thousand employees cumulated they also carry about equal weight and promotion decisions, and so many organizations have evolved norms or heuristics over time that say, look, even if we're not good at rewarding individual giving behaviors and valuing those in the aggregate, we don't want to promote people who are takers as successful because we know that the organization depends on giving behaviors. And where I think this gets a little more nuanced is breaking down. What kind of giving behavior does the organization really need?
And this is also where a lot of givers sort of shoot themselves in the foot because they end up in reactive mode saying, all right, I'm going to help with whatever requests I get as opposed to starting with proactively.
Like, what is the organization trying to accomplish exactly? What's the mission? And then what's what's the most valuable, most irreplaceable contribution I can make that advances to the team or the organization's mission?
And then if you align your giving with with those collective goals, the behavior obviously adds a lot more value.
Did you do any work to see if those were the the ones that became the positive outliers?
Not yet. I think I'd like to see somebody to do it. I think that it seems likely that I mean, it fits into some things we do know empirically. So we know, for example, there's there's some some neat research by rapine colleagues which which basically shows that if you spend a lot of time helping other people, if you have poor time management skills, that's really bad for your performance or productivity. But if you have good time management skills, it actually seems to contribute positively to your performance and productivity.
What that suggests is that people who are more thoughtful about how they spend their time end up, you know, either they end up just getting more done, period, and they have more time to be helpful.
But also they end up helping in ways that are clearly more valued by others. And I think there's you could extrapolate from that, OK, there are multiple ways of being thoughtful if you care about being generous.
And one of those is to say, look, I've got to sort of draw the Venn diagram of what the organization needs most. And then what are my most distinctive skills? And the overlap between those two is where I should be doing most of my giving, if not all of it.
I like that that's a really good way to kind of conceptualize it, so if you were composing a team, you would be looking for all gamers and not having a taker in the group. I would definitely want to weed out takers, but I would want a mix of giver's and matchers. But wouldn't matchers just turn into Giver's? They would.
But if you have strong matchers who really believe in fairness and justice over compassion and generosity, then you have much, much more foolproof sort of taker detection and defense mechanisms.
Because, you know, again, givers tend to be too trusting. Matchers tend to be they fight fire with fire. So they're tough on takers and they're generous with givers. And it's just, you know, it's a good safeguard to have some people who operate like extreme matters in your group like that.
Switching gears, so your second book you wrote was originals, which is kind of what we can learn from great creators. So what's the high level that you got out of that in terms of what we can learn? Have a great original creators.
So I noticed after after I wrote give and Take that a lot of the questions I was getting from executives and emails from readers were around like, if I have a culture of takers, how do I change it into a culture of givers?
And as a you know, I worked with this question more. I realized it was sort of a special case of a broader question, which is if I want to change my culture, how do I do that? And I sort of had that, I guess, in the back of my mind. And I also started getting a lot of questions from my students about, you know, I come into to an organization and I'm kind of at the bottom of the hierarchy, but I have a I have an idea or suggestion that I think is really important.
How do I get heard what I don't yet have the authority to to drive real change.
And then on the flip side of that, I had a lot of leaders asking, well, how do I fight groupthink and get people to to challenge their own assumptions and think creatively?
And I'd been doing this body of research on unproductivity, which was all about being the kind of person who takes initiative and champions change and says, look like I'm not going to be a conformist, I'm not going to follow other people just for the sake of it. I'm going to advocate for the ideas that I believe in. And, you know, I guess all of this was that was sort of brewing. And I eventually decided that what we needed was we needed a book that was sort of a sequel to creativity because, I mean, there are tons of books out there based on volumes of evidence about how to generate more creative ideas.
And I felt like those books basically kind of left off at will.
What do you do once you have an idea yet? How do you know if it's any good? How do you speak up effectively? How do you build a coalition of ad advocates and allies and then, you know, some some related questions around like timing, how do you know when to act?
And ultimately, how do you build a culture that that allows people to bring ideas forward effectively? And so that was kind of where I started. And I walked in thinking that, you know, anybody who's highly original thinker, you know, and it's comfortable being a nonconformist must be somebody who loves taking risks and who always acts in advance, you know, sort of first mover before everybody else and who has really good judgment about ideas. And I found that I was wrong.
And all three of those fronts that the most original people among us pretty consistently are extremely risk averse. So they really like sort of real clarity and maybe even certainty about success. And they do everything they can once they have an idea to, you know, to risk it and make it something that it's not going to expose them to the possibility of failure. But they also remind themselves that it's, yeah, it's bad to fail, but it's even worse to fail to try.
And, you know, that's that's how a lot of them stay motivated. And then the first mover advantage was was a total myth.
So it turns out that that if you look at the entrepreneurship realm, for example, or companies launching new products on average, the sort of the settlers as opposed to the pioneers, the second and third movers are about seven times less likely to fail than the first movers because, you know, it's really like it's a huge amount of work to create a market from scratch. And you end up making all these specific investments and in your product or service or technology that are hard to change, it's much easier to watch somebody else create a market and then improve upon their solution.
And so it turned out like you, you want to be quick to start, but sometimes there's real value in being slow to finish.
And then the judgment point, I was I was really stunned that the most original thinkers had more bad ideas than their peers, and that was because they just had more ideas.
And that that talk about Darwinian. This is the easiest way to understand how to get better at idea selection is to basically say, look, the more ideas you generate, the better your shot at stumbling on some truly great ones. And you have to you have to tolerate a lot of sort of dead ends and false starts in order to to have a shot at doing something truly worthwhile. I remember reading that in your book.
I think the example that comes to mind was William Shakespeare, who wrote some of his most profound work and also some of his you know, it's widely considered to be his worst work during the same period of time when you just had this massive amount of output.
It was it was so funny looking at the I mean, we don't know for sure exactly when Shakespeare wrote each of his plays, but there are plenty of experts who have kind of traced the approximate windows when when, you know, different plays were written. And I was stunned looking back to see that in the very same period that he was writing Macbeth or King Lear, he was also churning out Timon of Athens, which is I mean, if you ask critics, it's so much worse that they have a hard time even admitting that Shakespeare wrote it.
And it's like, you know, you kind of imagine this this curve of expertise where the better you get, like the fewer of of of those average or mediocre works you churn out. And that's not what you see. You do see, of course, there's a learning curve. But once people achieve expertise, they're still they're still going on lots of random walks.
And they may they may have cleared some objective bar of quality where like, you know, like Shakespeare, like Shakespeare's worst play would still be better than my best one. But there's still a tremendous amount of variance in how much their work resonates with their audience. And that turns out to be true across fields. It's really easy to see and in highly artistic fields, of course, but you also you can pick it up with inventors and entrepreneurs and scientists.
And I think it's it's just it's part of it goes back to the curse of knowledge that when you generate an idea, you by definition, you're too close to it to understand how other people are going to perceive it and experience it. And you can improve your taste over time. You can develop all kinds of mechanisms for gaining distance from your work. And those can help you judge it a little bit more accurately. But it's never going to be nearly as accurate as the wisdom of a of a crowd that didn't generate the idea.
Do you think that always holds true? Look, I kind of want to get out of it this a little bit. Do you think that there are the circumstances where the quality, quantity relationship kind of divides from that, where it's better to do more quality and maybe less quantity? Yes. What would this be? I say that largely because I don't believe there are any conditions for anything in human behavior, social science, where the opposite isn't true. There are always times where you could take, like you take the most robust relationship that you know of in behavioral science.
And if you can't find conditions that reverse it, then you're not a behavioral scientist.
So the default answer is yes. When would that be? I think. So I think maybe it depends on whether we're talking about sort of the number of ideas that you generate versus the number of ideas that you develop. I think that it's always better to generate lots of ideas because at the outset of deciding what you're going to work on, the more the broader the raw possibilities, that the the more likely it is that that you're going to have carefully considered what you should invest your time in and sort of made, I guess, some some good bets about what's going to be both new and valuable.
I think when it comes to developing your ideas further, then it's probably the case that, you know, there's some kind of curvilinear relationship between quantity and quality where, you know, if you're trying to work on 19 ideas at once, there's yeah, there's going to be you're going to end up with divided attention. You'll have residue from, you know, from one idea sort of clouding your ability to think on another idea. If you're lucky.
Somehow those ideas turn out to be interconnected and there's some positive spillover from one to another. But but I think for the most part, what you need is, is the clarity of focus from from working on a relatively small number of things, especially if you're working on something that's hard. And so I think that's probably another contingency is the difficulty of the problem that you're trying to solve, which in in the business world might be sort of like how crowded is this market?
How many real experts have worked on this problem already? And I think the higher the difficulty or the complexity level, the harder it is to to do lots of things at once.
The one caveat I want to put on that, though, is we also know that very frequently sort of subconscious thought is more creative than conscious. Thought you probably tracked the Dexter House work on this at some point. And I think that one of the one of the reasons that working on at least a few ideas as opposed to just one can be useful is that it sort of keeps the wheels turning in the back of your mind on the previous idea that you were working on.
Right. And sometimes it sort of works itself out for you, which is really convenient.
I'm thinking, as you're saying, that there's probably some sort of processing going on where we have this nature that we're predisposed to see success like. I mean, your book, you sat down, you wrote it, and we see the output of that. We see that it's like a New York Times bestseller. What we don't see is like all the failures that go into it, all the other ideas that you had, all of the the visibility of that is either low or so far from what we see that it doesn't consciously kind of produce.
So we think that, like, people only have these incredibly successful ideas because we don't see the failures. I think that it gets lost, that there's a process to go to creating anything that's probably meaningful in terms of art or literature or inventions. That includes, you know, a huge cemetery of kind of projects that didn't make it.
Yeah, I think I mean, I think that one of the most dangerous things you can do is you can compare yourself to anybody who you don't know because like, you know, you're only going to have access if if they've been careful about having pride in quality of work, they're only going to put out their best work and you're going to end up just having completely unrealistic expectations of what's possible and how, I guess, in particular what's possible as far as consistent greatness is concerned.
Do you think that's playing out right now in broader society to sidetrack a little bit here? Because like we see Twitter and we see Instagram and we only see the very best in people's lives. Nobody's taking pictures of them crying because somebody broke up with them. I mean, we only see these these kind of overwhelmingly happy, positive, and we're not being exposed to the spectrum of lives.
So I think that's starting to change in the sense that, you know, Silicon Valley is well known for celebrating failure, although people are usually only comfortable celebrating failure after they've achieved success, which is sort of a paradox, because then you don't get to see any ordinary people failing.
Yeah, for people who seem to be ordinary failing, there's some really interesting new data on Facebook actually showing that we like people more on Facebook who are who are a little bit more self expressive, who don't sort of live these airbrushed lives, but might even share negative information and in particular, your friends like you more. If you know, every once in a while, you know, you share kind of like a click. Yeah, I had a really bad day or here's what's going on in my life that's truly depressing.
Again, I think it's curvilinear. We don't like people who complain every hour of every day.
But I think this is this is a problem in the narrative. That we tell about success more broadly, that, you know, like you're expected to write a bio and a resume where you scrub out all of your failures, and that's a real disservice.
But not only that, but you glorify your achievements, right? Yeah. Which which which just ends up sort of creating a nice little funhouse mirror for other people to look at you in, which is totally distorted. I think that, you know, at the same time, I understand that people, especially if they haven't achieved what they think are their major goals, I understand why people don't just want to come out. They're like, yeah, here are all the you know, the bad ideas that I worked on and all the the jobs that I applied to that I got rejected for.
And that that that requires some some real courage to put it out there.
But I think there ought to be some middle ground where we can say, like the kinds of things that I'm toying with right now and I don't know which ones are going to work up.
Right. One fascinating part of the book was you mentioned that some people are more able to avoid emotional pain killers, which is like justifying the status quo the way it is, like why are some people perpetually dissatisfied with the status quo and maybe they have more drive? I mean, is this learned? Is that culture? Is it innate? I think like everything else in psychology, it turns out to be a mix of of the above, you know, people who are who are perpetually dissatisfied with the status quo.
It usually stems from having extremely high expectations, you know, like Tim Urban is fond of saying on way. But why that happiness is reality minus expectations. And the higher your expectations are, the harder it is for reality to live up to them. And so you're going to if your expectations are just extremely high, you're going to walk around pissed off all the time. And then the question is, how do you channel that? Do you channel that into constant complaining or do you channel that into trying to fix the things that you believe are broken?
And I think that you often hear engineers stereotyped as sort of perpetually dissatisfied in a good way. I remember Larry Page telling me once that he felt like the definition of an engineer is somebody who immediately has to optimize everything that he or she sees. And that can be a really good quality to have, except sometimes you end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater and you introduce changes that are perceived as optimizing. But they're really improving the focal problem while making others worse.
And of course, systems thinking is, is the supposed to be the general solution to that. And I think that's where you start to see, OK, if you're perpetually dissatisfied and you're looking at the world through a microscope, then it's really hard to end up solving problems in a way that's useful. Whereas if you're good at it, I guess it's hard to do that if you just have a telescope too, because you don't see them with enough detail.
But what you need is the ability to zoom in and zoom out to look at things through a microscope and a telescope simultaneously, or at least toggle between the two.
And I think if you do that, you know, having this disposition to be to be unhappy, not unhappy in the I hate my life sense, but unhappy in the like, the way that the world is organized could be improved. I'm going to do something about it since then.
Then you're probably going to end up with with increasing levels of satisfaction as you fix the things that are broken.
So as a father, what do you do to nurture creativity in your kids? So I think that most of the time, nurturing creativity is mostly about getting out of the way. I think it's really hard to raise a creative child. It's really easy to thwart a child's creativity. So the data show that having too many rules is one way to do that. If you look at highly creative high schoolers, for example, on average, they had about half a rule in their household, whereas there's sort of I don't know how that works, but averages are misleading in many ways, not just the kids.
But an average, like a lot of the families didn't even have rules. And if they did, they just had one or two that were core. Whereas kids who are rated by their teachers is more more conventional in their thinking, tended to grow up in households with about six core rules.
And so it's not that we don't have rules, but with the data show is that if you are going to create rules, they shouldn't be about the rules themselves. They should be about the underlying values that they represent.
So if you're going have a rule about bedtime, like we like to put our kids to bed and have them, like when it's bedtime, we basically say, look, it's reading time and then we'll tell you a lights out time. And so it's not this draconian. OK, here is your bedtime. It's this, hey, we really value being well rested. And it's important to us that you get a good night's sleep. You'll feel better. You'll get along with other people better, you know, easier.
The next day you go. Yeah, I mean, it benefits us too, if all goes as planned. But so we try to be really clear when we do set rules about the values behind them. We try to not have arbitrary rules. We try to give our kids a lot of responsibility. So, you know, one example is I'll say to our daughters, this is coming right out of the research I've read. And I do try to be one of those psychologists who doesn't screw up our kids.
But sometimes the research is too useful not to apply.
So, you know, in this case, like, OK, so let's say you're having a you have a dilemma around, like, how do you manage bedtime? I will say to our nine year old or six year old, all right. Like, you know, lights will go out at, you know, at eight thirty. And I'm going to give you a choice. Do you want to be responsible and turn them out yourself or do you want me to come in and turn them out?
And then if they choose responsibility, I'll give them a little bit extra time. But if they don't deliver on the responsibility, then they lose the privilege temporarily. And that way, you know, they get to make all these choices and feel like they're in charge of their own destiny. And they get to think for themselves a little bit about how they want to manage their time, which I think is useful.
So what are your core kind of family values then, that you center around or gravitate towards or try to instill in your your children? You have three kids, right? Yeah, we have we have three, two girls and a boy. And I think when it comes to core family values, we care obviously a lot about generosity and kindness. One of the things that we we discuss at the dinner table every week is the conversation about like what did what what did you do at school today is not that helpful.
What's much more helpful is what's something you did for someone else this week. Right. And we try to talk about that, knowing that, again, this is really scary. But in the data, you know, parents say that the concern for others is their most important value. But kids think that achievement is their most important value.
And because all you talk about is accomplishments, you know, how did you do on a test know? Let's let's talk about how the soccer game went. And so we try to we try to bring these values to life through discussions. And we know that the questions we ask will, you know, will really influence what our kids think is important. So I think generosity, kindness is a big one. We definitely want our our kids to learn to value learning.
And so one of the one of the principles that we follow is any time they're interested in learning about something, we will we'll find a book on it. And, you know, their their challenge then is is to learn about it and maybe to teach it to us, which is really fun. And we get to have a whole discussion about it. And beyond that, I think we have like lots, lots of specific values. But those are two of the big ones that we care a lot about in our household.
I like that it sounds similar to what I do with my kids, which is like every day during dinner, I asked them something they did that was kind for somebody else today. There you go. And the whole point of that is to reinforce that there's no expectations when you're kind of people, but you can always going to look at to do something nice for other people. How old are yours? Minus seven and eight. Impressive. You know, I often find that if you do that daily, there's not enough opportunities.
Well, I mean, the conversation isn't that like an adult level either. It's kind of like some days are better than others.
That's fair. You know, I remember when we first started having these conversations and be like, well, I didn't steal.
Is his pencil kind of thing, and that was the nice thing, and I'm like, I think we need to have a broader conversation about what nice means.
I love it. So moving on to option B, which kind of just came out, which is about kind of facing adversity and building resilience, which you co-authored with Sheryl Sandberg. I love that book. I mean, at times I was happy and sad and the emotion that it evoked in me and then the realization that I was doing things, trying to help other people through things that were just completely tone deaf to their reality. It was incredible. What did you learn writing that book about kind of facing adversity and building resilience?
So I think one of the one of the big takeaways for me is that I don't think we're very good at mental time travel. I think when when something goes wrong in our lives, whether it's professional or personal, when we face hardship, what we do is we basically, you know, we amplify it and we catastrophe's it and it starts to feel like this is the worst thing that's ever happened to me. And, you know, in rare cases it is.
But that's that's pretty stiff competition for something to be the worst thing that ever happened to you, like of all the bad things that have ever occurred in your life.
This has to be worse.
And, you know, the odds are that most of the time when something bad happens, it's not the worst thing.
And I think that one of the skills that we all need to develop is the ability to to get in touch with our past selves.
And it's something that that Cheryl is exceptionally good at and something that that I've read a lot of research on is to imagine what what would my past self have done in this situation.
And when you do that, a lot of times you see that there are there are skills that you're equipped with now that you didn't have before.
And when that's not the feeling, the next thing is to say, all right, you know, what's what's the adversity that I that I went through that was similarly difficult or even worse?
And how did I overcome it? And remembering that you have faced difficulties in the past that you've gotten through them. One, you know, it sort of boosts yourself efficacy and gives you confidence that you can do it again.
And to sometimes it even gives you strategies that you forgot about that you might have deployed earlier in your life and have just lost sight of.
And I think that that kind of mental time travel is extremely valuable.
Do you practice that now or do you? Yeah, of course. You do that only when you're in kind of situations of adversity or is it something you do more regularly now?
You know, it's something that I've started doing also for I guess for for occasional accomplishments.
So like I remember I remember publishing give and take. It was it was really amazing feeling to write a book like I have loved books since the day that I could read. And I remember growing up, my mom would take out 30 books every week from the library and I would like tear through them. And like a lot of my my happiest moments in life have been either the direct result of reading or happened while I was reading a book. And also a lot of the thoughts that have most, I guess, shaped my worldview have come from books.
And so the idea of actually becoming an author is such a meaningful, I guess, life transition. And then originals came out and I was like, yeah, I wrote another book.
And the funny thing is, if I had to choose Dan Pink once told me that choosing a favorite book is a little bit like choosing a favorite child. So I'm not going to do that. But I will say, you know, I wrote give and take first because it's the set of ideas that I am most passionate about. It's my most core set of values.
I think originals is a better written book. I think I became a better writer, you know, over the few years in between. And so, you know, it's not like I should have been less excited or proud when, you know, when Book two came out than book one.
And yet I adapted to the idea of being an author and it hardly even registered as something to mark and celebrate, like a transition from non author to author.
It's this is what authors do, like author again.
And now I'm not like a one book wonder whatever that means. So I think that what I would have started doing to to try to prevent that from happening, which is something that the writing was really, really imprinted on me, is Sheryl said, look, moments of joy are really important. You know, they're part of what makes life worth living. They're part of what we have to look forward to. And it's it's part of being human, is being able to enjoy life.
And you don't want to deprive yourself of that. And so, you know, when when these milestone moments do occur, what I do now is I rewind about five years and I asked myself, OK, if my five years ago self knew this was going to happen, how excited would I be?
And then, you know, it's my responsibility to be that excited now and then I have this annoying internal monologue about like, well, I'm not as excited, why am I not as excited? And then, like, that was just not fun anymore. But but it actually does get me most of the time back in touch with the emotions. Say, wow, like if you had told me five years ago that that I would have written a second book, I would have freaked out that anybody read my first book.
And there was an audience for a second one. And then also I had an idea that I thought was worth devoting a whole book to or a question that was worth writing about for for that many words and pages. And that that to me has been something that transcends adversity, that kind of rewinding and saying, all right, how would I look at the situation I'm in now if, you know, if I could earlier in my life usually is a way to, I guess, sustain some some appreciation and gratitude and even some satisfaction.
What kind of conversations do you have with your kids about building resilience and facing adversity? Oh, well, I think most of the time what we do is we end up asking our kids to think about this through the eyes of others.
So one of the things that's hard for anybody, but especially hard for kids, is when you're in a difficult situation, it's hard to gain perspective on it. And usually the emotions are overwhelming.
Your ability to think so you can you can say and like in cornerman terms that it's it's all system one and not enough system to make it so that we try to prepare our kids for that is we ask them whenever we're facing difficulty or whenever they come home.
And tell us about a friend at school who ran into a difficult situation. We ask, well, what should I do or what should your friend do? And we actually ask our kids for advice. And the hope is that that helps them rehearse, kind of thinking through different kinds of hardship, that it gives them some go to strategies to work with. And that also there's this research on on how one of the as you know from reading option be one of the big ways to to build kids resilience is to show them that they matter.
And, you know, mentoring is just the belief that other people notice you care about you and rely on you. And I think most parents are exceptionally good at the first year. We know we're supposed to notice our kids. That's why we have lots of rules about no smart phones at dinner.
And we like we also go out of our way to do tons of things that show how much we care about them.
But we forget that relying on kids is also a way to build their resilience because it shows them that, you know, that they're not helpless, that they know they have the strength to do things for others. And so the hope is that whenever we ask them for advice on navigating a dilemma or a challenge, that that that makes them feel that they matter because we are willing to rely on them.
I like that a lot. I want to switch gears a little bit here as an organizational psychologist. And what do you think of the educational theory of communities of practice internal to organizations? I think communities of practice are one of the most, I would say understated and under applied literatures and mostly in kind of a micro sociology world.
So I remember first reading Laven Winger, I guess probably, I don't know, almost 15 years ago now.
And I thought the core insight was really powerful, that you don't develop expertise just by, you know, by reading a book because a lot of the expertise you need isn't written down anywhere.
It's too early or it's just tacit knowledge where people in a profession haven't yet even figured out how to articulate what they know. They just do it.
And so the way that you build expertise actually is by joining a community of people who, you know, who share your interests, who may have the skills that you want to acquire. And you talk to them, you watch them in action, you hang out with them. And then there's this. You know, the hope is there's a group level elevation in capability.
I think it's brilliant. And I think that most organizations are not designed in most workplaces are not designed to build these. And I think it's one of the frankly, it's one of the things that's so valuable about Farnam Street is you've gathered this group of people who share an interest in improving their decision making and maybe even being reasonable, rational human beings. They learn together, which I think is incredibly cool.
And you think that that's like an underutilized kind of tool organizationally. What would you do to kind of foster that or bring more awareness to it? I think the first thing I would do is I would I would create a mechanism where people could build their own communities of practice. So a lot of organizations now have expert databases where you can search for people who are knowledgeable about the thing that you want to learn or apply. And I think that's useful.
But it's kind of backward. What you should have are mechanisms for people to say, look, I want to learn more about this.
Who else wants to learn about it? Yes, we can learn together instead of. Yes. And once once you have a critical mass around a topic, either because it's just something a lot of your employees care about or, you know, it's something that that has real relevance to the future of the organization. Then you can start to think about bringing experts in or putting organizational resources behind it.
One of the coolest examples that I've seen of this is Jay Moldenhauer Salazar, his natural leader, who at the time he was at Old Navy, now is at riot games. What he did was he took on a new role. He had, I think, about one hundred people reporting to him all of a sudden. And I sat down with every one of them and he said, look, I want you to start a secret mission. And, you know, he's a gamer when he says a secret mission.
Right. It is like people are going to be either totally excited by this or totally weirded out. And either way, it's a good introduction to who I am. And he said your secret mission is to find something you're passionate about that doesn't exist at this organization yet and create a group around it or an initiative around it. Except it can't just be for you. It has to be of interest to at least one other person.
And he said, I'm going to meet with you about it and I'm going to ask you 90 days, like, what's your mission and how can I support it? How could it be if every manager gave every person with them a chance to go on one of those missions and be awesome?
Speaking of managers, I mean, there's a trend to like unmanned imaging or there seems to be anywhere visible kind of giving people space and freedom to be themselves rather than conform to any predetermined structure, like maybe hypocrisy. Be an example of that. What do you make of all this?
Oh, well, I saw on Twitter this morning one of your fans wanted to ask about that. So I'm curious to hear your take on this to Shane. And I'm bothered by the fact that this interview is so one sided and I don't get to ask you all my questions, but I like about it work. I know. But then that's really selfish of you. I'm a taker now. You know, you're doing it on your terms instead of I realize it's it's one of us.
We'll leave this conversation feeling like we didn't get to ask tough questions. I have resigned myself to being that person today.
Yeah. So, I mean, like, my my answer to this would kind of be, I think it can work, but it's a very hard thing to implement backwards going into an existing culture and changing. And I think it can kind of work from the ground up, but there's not a lot of base cases of it being incredibly successful. So I don't know enough about it to say, like, I would be a fan of it or not.
I mean, as a entrepreneur, I think that would give me more freedom inside of an organization to kind of identify problems and solve them. But then I think it would also be a bit of a mess. And people that I talk to you and some of these organizations tend to feel like it's a bit of a mess. Yeah, I think I mean, I think Holocaust's is a really interesting idea. I think that I'm torn because on the one hand, there was a book actually that that Hal Levitt wrote.
He spent his whole career studying organizations and his the final book of his career was called Top Down.
And it was about how a hierarchy is inevitable for social organization. And it's basically here to stay in. The more you fight it, as opposed to figuring out how to work with it, the worse off your organization is going to be. But then on the flip side, I don't think we tried that many alternatives. And the ones that have been tried probably haven't been studied. They certainly haven't been ab tested to try to figure out how to improve them.
So what I would love to do is I would love to set up an organization where I don't know whether ocracy is the right type of system or whether you want a self-management system, more like the tomato paste producer Morningstar has, where they have what they call a fluid, dynamic hierarchy. And different people are in charge in different meetings, in different projects.
But whatever the model, what we should be doing is we should be running constant experiments to try to change the way that, you know, that that hierarchy is evolve and see whether a flat organization works under certain conditions or whether there are certain circumstances. You need hierarchy. And then how do we best toggle between the two? I think, you know, as I think about the research on this so far, there was a great year last year by Ethan Bernstein.
I think it was called Beyond the Hypocrisy Hype, if I remember correctly. And it was the best evidence based article I've seen so far on it that basically said, look, here are some here are some benefits. Here are some challenges. Here's what we learn from studying Zappos. And I think that's the kind of dialogue we need more of. And I would say the jury is still out. I think I agree with you that it can work.
And I think we know far too little about how to make it work.
Like Malcolm Gladwell, you use a lot of incredibly compelling stories to supplement your interpretation of social sciences. To what extent are you afraid of creating false narratives? And how do you guard against the mistaken correlation and causation? How do you how do you think of it that. Well, I think that the I guess the first thing I would say is that you have to let the data drive the narrative rather than vice versa. So you're in danger.
If you have a story you want to tell or an idea that you want to promote, and then you go out confirmation bias, searching for the right data. What would I think what we should do is we should start by asking questions and then search for data that inform the question. And if you can't find any data to contradict your point of view, you haven't looked hard enough. I think that there was a there's a great quote from a sociologist, Gary Marx.
I don't think he's related to Karl, but he said that he was talking about the difference between a fundamentalist and a scholar. And he said the difference is that a fundamentalist gives answers and a scholar asks questions.
And it's been actually interesting to think about this. I think we should all be scholars. And if I were if I were to imagine there are different ways that I could have written give and take, the pure fundamentalist would have only talked about the benefits of giving and said, look, you should help other people because it will make you more successful in your career and it will make you happier.
And a scholar's responsibility is to say, well, you know, but wait a minute. Like, nothing is an unmitigated good in life and certainly at work. And so there have to be circumstances where, you know, where we're helping others is not beneficial and even harmful. Let's let's understand those. In fact, you'll be a better fundamentalist if you're a scholar, because you will know how to maximize the benefits and minimize the costs or at least have more clues about how to do that.
And so that was my commitment going in. I remember actually I had an editor who read my book proposal for give and Take and said, you know, I got to be honest with you, I don't want to read this book. I said, why not?
I said, yeah, it's like, yeah, this is this is maybe I'm going down the wrong path here. But I was like, why not? He said, Well, because I already like I go to church and I'm told I have to be a giver in my community and family life and at home. And now you're telling me I got to be what at work to. This sounds awful.
And, you know, I reflect on that. And what I realized was I had the whole book organized in terms of like the first half was highlighting the the benefits of being a giver. And then the second half was looking at the costs and how to reduce them. And it felt totally one sided. Yeah. And that I actually rewrote the intro chapter after that to say, look, actually the fundamental question in this book is why are some givers successful and why are some unsuccessful and how can we how can we both achieve our own success and then has the success of others?
And, you know, once once that was the the orienting question, it was it was then pretty difficult to to have sort of narrative take me in the wrong direction, because my goal was to to capture all the evidence and try to sort out when what do we really know about when to give a successful versus failed correlation.
And causation is a is an interesting one, I guess is an issue. It bothers me a lot less than it bothers a lot of people. And I'm going to give you let me give you three reasons for that.
And you can tell me if if if you agree or not. So the first one is, you know, most of the studies I cover are either randomized controlled trials where we can make really strong causal inferences or careful field studies where we're looking at there's either longitudinal data so that we can look at reverse causality or we have really good controls for indigeneity and we're able to, you know, sort of partial out all kinds of limited variables and begin to estimate the effect of a variable on another variable.
And so I think the research methods take care of a lot of a lot of that. It's hard to randomly assigned people to some of the things that I study. So that's where we do need really good econometric studies. But the second thing that that makes me less concerned about this is I think that for the most part, when we have causal effects in the social sciences, they tend to be feedback loops. It's not that in real life, X is just causing Y, it's more that X is boosting Y a little bit and then Y reinforces X and they start to they start to feel each other a little bit denominated totally like Calaway could call these deviation amplifying spirals.
But the easy one is success, confidence, right. Where like, you know, you lack confidence. It's something you try it, you develop your skills a little bit more and that as you have success, your confidence goes up and that leads you to try more things than that prepares you for bigger success. And at some point you run the risk of becoming overconfident and it all falls apart. But until that point, like the chicken or the egg question is sort of irrelevant, like, do you need confidence to be successful?
What kind of do you need success to be confident? Will, kind of how does the replication. I wouldn't call it a crisis with the replication fit into everything right now, it seems to be undergoing this doesn't replicate. How much time do you think we are? How many outside of one study? How many times does it have to replicate over how many years before we can have a significant amount of confidence that it is? How does this affect kind of how you think of it?
Yeah, so this is actually a great Segway to the third point that I would make, which is I think that oftentimes people have a knee jerk reaction like, well, correlation isn't causation and they're trained that that's how you should always look at social science data with skepticism, which you should only. Sometimes they overreact that way, because if you have a relationship between two variables, there are only three explanations for it. Only three. One is that causes why?
Two, is that why causes X or three is that there's some other variables that causes both Y and X, and the relationship is like Asperger's.
And what's interesting about that is that in the replication crisis, there's this idea that will you have a study where you showed that X cause Y, but your manipulation of X is funky and so we can't trust it and we're going to go and replicate it. And then, aha, we found in our replication that in fact X a better X or a more carefully measured Y, we didn't get a causal effect. And I think they're asking the wrong question there.
The question is not does X cause the question is when does X cause Y under what circumstances. Yeah, you didn't.
I mean, circumstances, but also people. So if you want to answer any of the debates in the replication crisis, you didn't have the same participants with the exact same personality traits and preferences and tendencies in your replication than you did with the original one. And so the odds that you're going to find the exact same effect with a different group of people who don't have an identical distribution of traits are pretty close to zero, in my opinion.
And, you know, there's a great quote from Bill McGuire, who is a social psychologist, who said that an experiment in the lab doesn't test whether hypothesis is true. It tests whether the experimenter is a sufficiently ingenious stage manager to produce the conditions under which the effect is true. Right. And that's what we're doing. Right. And then the challenge for us is any time we get an effect to vary those conditions and see, well, when is it strong, when is that weak, when is it positive, when is it negative?
And I think the replication crisis has kind of missed that larger point that, you know, there are all these I'm now seeing meta analyses with Peaker of saying, well, the average effect is zero. Well, great. I know how to get an average effect of zero. Let's have an effect in half the studies of negative point seven and in effect, the other half. The study is positive point seven. That doesn't mean the effect isn't real.
That means the effect is complicated. And we need to understand it better.
And how do we do that? We have to arrange the way that we think of it.
The problem to vary the conditions, to find out when when it replicates and when it doesn't and to what extent there is an impact that I think I think that is the key.
And I think that any responsible social or behavioral scientists should sit down whenever they test in effect and say here the boundary conditions for the effect where it should hold. And here are also the moderators that can reverse the effect. And now I'm going to go investigate all of this. And that just means a richer understanding of the phenomenon, like let's take the power of postdebate, for example. I do. I believe that power poses can cause psychological behavior and behavioral changes in people.
Sure. Do I know when those changes occur and for whom? Not a clear yet.
Yeah, I like that. I like that way of thinking about it. I think that that's a helpful framework to kind of as we walk through this and kind of walk through anything in life, whether it's taking Google 20 percent time and implementing it at your organization. Any idea that we're trying to take out of out of one ecosystem, if you will, and put it into another ecosystem? Yes, I think under what conditions does that survive or thrive in that ecosystem?
What are the important components of that? And then do we have that at play here?
Yeah, you know, it's funny, I remember I was at a conference last year and I was I was doing a little session on my research and an elderly gentleman walked into the room and I didn't recognize them. And I leaned over to somebody and whispered, Who is that? And the answer was, That's Charlie Munger. And I said, I tried to put the speaker so that we could all listen to him, but he just wanted to ask them questions and have a conversation.
And, you know, at one point somebody brought up his his line of him wanting to know where he was going to die so he could never go there. And I thought that was it's the clearest way of explaining how much in life is conditional. Yeah. And it's not like, OK, you know, he's assuming he's going, you know, he's going to experience an event. Right. The question is like, what are the sequences of choices that I make that will lead me to experience that event?
And especially when we study human behavior, we can affect like maybe the first move in those those sequences of choices.
But there's this thing called free will that gets in the way and affects the rest of them. And yeah, I think it's quite remarkable that we can ever design studies where we get robust and consistent effects in different samples or different contexts because people are incredibly complicated. I super conscious of the time here, I got one question left for you, a personal question, more so I guess is like your prolific right, you do so much. Is there a ceiling, do you think, to what we can accomplish and live a balanced or harmonious life?
Oh, hello, pot. I am Kettle. Tell me about this.
I mean, I'm amazed by how much you publish every week. And when I open your newsletter, I'm like, OK, this is going to be the week where Shayne's newsletter is only going to be other people's writing, because with all the reading that he does, there's no way that he's also writing. So I'm going to fire this question back at you. I will. I'll give you my answer, which is I think that having kids has made me much I work a lot less than I used to, you know, like I used to.
I used to work basically with all of my free time. And now I get almost all my work done when our kids are at school or camp or sleep. And I think that it's made me more efficient with some of the things that I do. But it's also caused me to choose to do less and do less well is the hope.
And I think that, yeah, of course, there's an upper bound, right? Like you can only work so many hours of the day. You can only like even if you have a million thoughts, you can only say them or take them so fast at this point. And then you're going to want to work on making them really clear and and sort of compelling to other people. And so, yeah, like, of course, there's a ceiling.
I think everybody everybody has a different ceiling based on their motivation and their capability for the particular work that they're doing.
But it bothers me a lot when people ask, well, how can I be more productive?
Because I think the question they should really be asking is how can I accomplish more meaningful work? And for some people, that may be more output or, you know, there may be these ideas they have or these products they want to build that just aren't out there yet. But I think for most people, productivity is not necessarily the answer. And it's about it's more about asking how do I know I use my time and my skills effectively.
One thing that I've kind of changed my mind on in the last three or four years is thinking in terms of balance, because balance implies like that you have one third, one third, one third or whatever that is. And I think more in terms of harmony between work and life and intermixing, then I mean, I'm fortunate that I can intermix them to the extent possible and I can travel with my kids and then meet people and do all of these things kind of together.
But the flip side of that is, you know, making time for what's important and kind of using a regret avoidance framework. I love spending time with my kids. I want to have dinner with them every night. I want to do things that, you know, I'm willing to sacrifice other things to do that. And I think before I was more apt to just try and do everything. And the other thing I'm kind of changing my mind a bit personally is before I was trying to do everything myself and now I'm trying to build a team to accomplish all the stuff I wanted to do.
Well, I love that and, you know, I think the the idea of harmonization really resonates. There's I mean, there's a whole literature on unworked family, my colleague Nancy Rothmans, and some of the most interesting work in this area saying, look, you know, we always think about work, family conflict and how work can deplete and detract from our lives. But there's also such a thing is enrichment, where work can improve our lives and vice versa, too.
And I think harmony allows for those things to happen. I think also I think that too many people are obsessed with with sort of when they think about balance, they think each day has to be.
Yeah. Yeah. And if you are going to strive for balance, it's much easier to achieve at the weak level or the month level.
Yes. Like, I have plenty of days that are out of balance, you know, like I try not to work on the weekends. And so, like, those are really not balanced at all. It has days when I travel where I don't get a lot of time with my family. But the goal is over the course of a week. And then as I get up to the month level that I'm spending a certain number of hours on each of the sort of each of the projects that I care about.
And if that if that's not met, I'll try to I'll try to make more work time. But ultimately, my goal is to feel like I get a lot of quality time with my family and that comes first.
And so I guess, you know, I think that to me, it's better to have like in a week or two days that are work heavy and then like some days that are all family than it is to have like five days that are a mix of the two.
I'm totally on board with that. Yeah, totally. I think that that makes that was too easy. Yeah.
We should argue. Listen, thank you so much for your time. This has been fascinating and incredibly insightful.
Well, it was it was fun to chat with you. Next time we talk, I want to start just barraging you with questions.
Hey, guys, this is Shane again, just a few more things before we wrap up.
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