Taken for Granted: Malcolm Gladwell Questions Everything (Transcript)

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

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Adam Grant (00:00:03):
I'm Adam Grant, and this is Taken for Granted, my podcast with the TED Audio Collective. I'm an organizational psychologist, and my job is to rethink how we work, lead, and live. My guest today is familiar to listeners of WorkLife. Actually, to pretty much anyone who listens to podcasts or reads books, Malcolm Gladwell. Malcolm and I find ourselves on stage together about once a year, and he's my favorite sparring partner. It's the closest I'll ever come to being the Karate Kid or Rocky Balboa.

Adam Grant (00:00:35):
A few weeks ago, as part of the tour for my new book, Think Again, Malcolm and I did a live chat on the audio platform Clubhouse about what we're rethinking. It built on a rollicking discussion we had back when Malcolm was on tour for his most recent book. So, we're gonna do something unusual here. We're gonna play the highlights from both conversations.

Adam Grant (00:00:56):
In the fall of 2019, I hosted Malcolm in my Authors@Wharton series. He was launching his book,Talking to Strangers. It's about why we misread people who we have limited information on. The book discusses judgements that police officers make, especially of people of color. And although the world has changed some since we recorded that conversation, I think you'll find many of Malcolm's observations on race particularly prescient. I came in thinking about some of the interesting tensions between his books. Blink was about how surprisingly accurate our snap judgements can be, but Talking to Strangers is about how inaccurate they are. And Outliers was about how the rich get richer, but David and Goliath is about how the underdog can beat the favorite.

Adam Grant (00:01:45):
Malcolm Gladwell, welcome back to Penn.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:01:47):
Thank you.

Adam Grant (00:01:48):
So, I have noticed over the last couple years, that you seem to really enjoy contradicting yourself.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:01:53):
I do. Yeah.

Crowd (00:01:54):
(laughs).

Adam Grant (00:01:55):
Why?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:01:57):
Well, I'm more worried about not contradicting myself. So, I would be very concerned if I was still saying the same things today as I was saying 10 years ago. That would strike me as being deeply problematic. Why? Well I would like to think that my, my current self is a good deal more interesting and thoughtful than my 10 years before self, right. And also I've never attached any signal whatsoever to contradiction. Consistency is surely the, the lamest of all human virtues. If, I wanna ... I'm not even sure it is a virtue.

Adam Grant (00:02:32):
(laughs).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:02:32):
I've never understood why that should be high on our list of ... I mean, they, and even the, you know, phrases like, "So-and-so talks out of two sides of their mouth," so? I mean, is that so wrong?

Adam Grant (00:02:46):
(laughs).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:02:46):
Why can't I talk out of two sides of my mouth?

Adam Grant (00:02:49):
You can, but you go to great lengths to push this to the extreme. So, your, your last book, David and Goliath-

Malcolm Gladwell (00:02:55):
Yeah.

Adam Grant (00:02:55):
... was almost the reverse of Outliers.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:02:57):
No. I would like to-

Adam Grant (00:02:59):
I disagree. And I would know.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:03:01):
(laughs).

Adam Grant (00:03:02):
But let me, let me make my case first.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:03:03):
Okay.

Adam Grant (00:03:03):
And then you, you can tell me why I'm wrong.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:03:05):
Okay.

Adam Grant (00:03:05):
So, Outliers was about cumulative advantage.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:03:08):
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adam Grant (00:03:08):
And David and Goliath, I think was about cumulative, in some ways, disadvantage.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:03:12):
Yeah, okay. Fair enough.

Adam Grant (00:03:13):
Right?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:03:14):
Yeah.

Adam Grant (00:03:15):
I rest my case.

Crowd (00:03:16):
(laughs).

Adam Grant (00:03:16):
Why, why do you think they weren't opposites though?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:03:18):
Well, they were kind of, I thought that David and Goliath was a gentle corrective to the excessive enthusiasm that greeted Out- Outliers. So, I, I was like, you know, and then sometimes when you write something, you're like, "Nah. That's, am I sure?" And so you want to kind of go back and noodle around a little. And 'cause you know, even the most thoughtful of observations, um, uh, contains an opportunity for, uh, joyful contradiction. That is to say, not nasty contradiction, but, you know, you can make an observation and you can say, "Oh, here are all the interesting exceptions." And sometimes the pile of exceptions gets so high that it's almost as high as the initial interesting observation. And that's the kind of situation that I kind of like.

Adam Grant (00:04:04):
Okay. So you found yourself in a new one of those now. So, I read Talking to Strangers, and felt like this is kind of the reverse of Blink in many ways.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:04:11):
Well now, interesting you should say that. This is one case where I don't believe I'm contradicting myself.

Adam Grant (00:04:17):
Why not?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:04:19):
Because what is the last story in Blink?

Adam Grant (00:04:22):
Amadou Diallo.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:04:23):
It's this, so it's the last major chapter in Blink is about the shooting of Amadou Diallo, uh, uh, a young African man in the Bronx who is, a group of police confront him outside of his home and make a series of snap deci- decisions, judgements of him that are all entirely wrong, and shoot him dead. Okay. What is the opening story of Talking to Strangers? The story of Sandra Bland, a young African-American woman who's pulled over by a police officer who makes a series of catastrophically bad decisions about her, and she ends up dead.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:04:54):
I think of this as a continuation. This is part two of Blink. This is a-

Adam Grant (00:04:57):
So, it's a sequel?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:04:58):
This is a sequel. So, Blink was a kind of journey through snap judgements that began with, well when are they good, and then slowly begin to kind of, um, explore the notion that actually they're only good in a very, very limited set of circumstances, and they're mostly kind of troubling. And it, but I, it astonished me how few people, and this maybe is a tribute to how badly that book was written, how few people understood what I was doing with that book. Like actual serious professors of psychology ... I was once on a train to Boston and I sat next to a neuroscientist. So like, I mean, with all due respect to what you do, Adam, the neuroscientists-

Adam Grant (00:05:39):
(laughs).

Crowd (00:05:39):
(laughs).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:05:40):
... are like way out there, right. That's where like your high IQ guy goes, right? That's ...

Adam Grant (00:05:46):
(laughs).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:05:47):
So, I'm sitting next to a neuroscientist-

Adam Grant (00:05:48):
I have so many thoughts right now.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:05:50):
(laughs). And he says to me, "Yeah, I really disagreed with your book, Blink. I read the first chapter." And I was like, "I, I can't go on." I was like, "Well, the argument evolves, and if you finish the book, you might have a more thoughtful understanding of where I was going with it." If neuroscientists can't figure out what I was doing in Blink, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Crowd (00:06:11):
(laughs).

Adam Grant (00:06:11):
I think, I think you're giving neuroscientists a little too much credit. So, when I, when I go to understand human behavior-

Malcolm Gladwell (00:06:17):
Yeah.

Adam Grant (00:06:18):
... I do things like survey people or run experiments or talk to them.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:06:21):
Yeah.

Adam Grant (00:06:22):
And then I have to figure out what cues are reliable and which ones aren't.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:06:24):
They take a picture.

Adam Grant (00:06:25):
Yeah, inside your brain.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:06:26):
(laughs). Right. Yeah, that's right.

Adam Grant (00:06:27):
Right, which, which is supposed to-

Malcolm Gladwell (00:06:28):
I get super excited about the picture, like draw all kinds of conclusions. It is the kind of Instagram of science, isn't it?

Adam Grant (00:06:34):
(laughs).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:06:34):
That's what neuroscience is. It's like the ... I'm joking, by the way, for the neuroscientists in the audience. I really am joking.

Adam Grant (00:06:43):
I, um, I am curious though, so a lot of Blink was about the surprising ways that our snap judgements are accurate.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:06:49):
Yeah.

Adam Grant (00:06:49):
What happened-

Malcolm Gladwell (00:06:49):
That's good.

Adam Grant (00:06:50):
... to change your mind?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:06:52):
There's been a lot of really interesting science since I wrote Blink. So, Blink was written, comes out in 2004. It's 15 years later. In Blink, I was quite taken with this notion that facial expressions were a universal and reliable cue to the way you feel in your heart. So, you're in, the emotions in your heart are represented on your ... Your face is a billboard for the heart, right. That's a, a, an idea that Darwin puts forth and that is, is kind of popularized and becomes a consensus position in many ways in psychology for many years.

Adam Grant (00:07:25):
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:07:25):
Blink was very much taken with the original consensus. And this book is like, actually now there are all kinds of people who are saying, "Wait a minute." Uh, my favorite, can I tell my favorite? My favorite study on this one is, and this is a German study, and it could only be a German study, just so you know.

Crowd (00:07:42):
(laughs).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:07:43):
Con- conduct a study where they lead you down a long narrow corridor into a room, where you're asked to read a passage of Kafka, of course, right.

Adam Grant (00:07:53):
(laughs).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:07:53):
It was either Kafka or Nietzsche. They were like, "Well, which one" ... There's no other possibility in a German psychological study.

Adam Grant (00:07:59):
(laughs). I'd quit the study right there.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:08:00):
That's right. Yeah.

Adam Grant (00:08:01):
But they continue.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:08:03):
You read the passage of Kafka, you answer a series of questions, and then they say you're free to leave. So, you open the door to go back down the long narrow hallway, hallway, only it's not a long narrow hallway anymore. They have moved the partitions that made the hallway, and on a chair is sitting your best friend, looking at you balefully, right. And the question is, what do you do when you see this? You've just been reading Kafka. You think you're about to go home. And all of a sudden, it's, whoa, right? So, the first thing they do is they ask you after you like go, "Whoa, what are you doing here? What's go" ... They ask you, how surprised were you on a scale of one to 10? And everyone says, "Oh, you know, eight and a half, nine. Totally surprised."

Malcolm Gladwell (00:08:43):
Then they say, "What do you think your face looked like?" And they say, "Well, my face must have shown surprise. I must have been this." Right? Jaw drops, eyes go wide, eyebrows go foo. They show you the videotape of your face. And what they find is that the actual videotape of your facial expression at the moment when you were registering 8.5 or 9 on a scale of 10 of surprise, your face shows no such thing. Some people maybe do a little bit of an eyebrow raise. A lot of people just sort of look, like, "Oh."

Adam Grant (00:09:16):
(laughs).

Crowd (00:09:16):
(laughs).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:09:18):
So, the idea that our face is a reliable cue to the way we feel is a fiction created in part by Hollywood and in part by Darwin, who spent too much time looking presumably at dogs, or whoever. I don't know who he was using.

Adam Grant (00:09:30):
(laughs).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:09:30):
So, I-

Adam Grant (00:09:31):
I have to say, when, when I first read re- this research, I thought, okay, this is, this is kind of an interesting finding, but I don't know if I buy the interpretation of it, because we also know that people are remarkably bad at judging their own emotions, especially if they're low in emotional intelligence.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:09:44):
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adam Grant (00:09:44):
And so it's possible in fact that, that many of them thought they were surprised when in fact they weren't, or they only concluded that they were surprised later.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:09:51):
You really think, you really think you could come out of-

Adam Grant (00:09:53):
Maybe they were terrified. Kafka is really unsettling, and then the room. I don't know.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:09:58):
Oh, but, but, so something should be on their face.

Adam Grant (00:10:02):
Maybe. Maybe.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:10:04):
It's hard to imagine they feel no emotions in that situation.

Adam Grant (00:10:08):
No, I just, I just wonder if there's a, a lag between the emotions they're feeling and the ones they display.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:10:14):
The, the more compelling evidence was the evidence of, I, all, a number of people of ... I, I talked to these two really wonderful researchers who went to the most remote corner of the world and showed ... So, they, what they did is you get a series of photos of people making quintessential emotional faces. And the, you know, eight-year-olds will get it, will get this, will nail this. They'll get all of them right. They know what an angry face is. They know what a happy face is. They know what is.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:10:40):
So then they go to like a little, what's called the Trobriand Islands, which is like where anthropologists go when they want to get as far away as possible from ... Basically the only westerners the Trobriands have ever seen are anthropologists.

Crowd (00:10:53):
(laughs).

Adam Grant (00:10:53):
(laughs).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:10:53):
So, very, very, truth ... So they have actually a weird sense of what the western world is like. They think the western world it, actually is just a large group of nerdy academics. Like that's their notion-

Adam Grant (00:11:02):
(laughs).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:11:03):
... their mental picture of American society is like guys in tweed jackets and, you know. Um, so the Trobriand people at this are like unbelievably terrible. So only 58% of them can recognize a happy face as, as being happy. On things like a angry face, uh, they're all over the map. A huge percentage of them think an angry face is a happy face, and an angry face is a fearful face, which the opposite of anger. I mean, I mean, and it, it really goes to show you how much, how culturally imprinted a lot of these things are.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:11:41):
And my favorite is they completely have no understanding of a surprise face, because for them, surprise is cluck, cluck, cluck, cluck, cluck.

Adam Grant (00:11:48):
It's a sound.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:11:51):
It's not an expression at all.

Adam Grant (00:11:53):
So, I, I have to say though, when, when I think about that-

Malcolm Gladwell (00:11:56):
Yeah.

Adam Grant (00:11:56):
... I never, I never thought we were supposed to believe that facial expressions were that universal or that reliable as indicators of emotion, right. I think what, if you read the Ekman research, what he did was he said, "Hey, even if you go to a culture very different from your own, people will recognize some of the prototypical expressions at a rate that's better than chance." And that suggests that there might-

Malcolm Gladwell (00:12:14):
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adam Grant (00:12:14):
... be some universalities in expressions. Um, but then to, you know, to expect that every culture would recognize every emotion and that they wouldn't have their own norms-

Malcolm Gladwell (00:12:22):
Yeah.

Adam Grant (00:12:22):
... th- that seems a little bit extreme, doesn't it?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:12:24):
But you read, in the way that that argument was represented, p- perhaps to be fair to Ekman, represented by others in subsequent years, the universal claim became quite strong. But you're right. I think this was-

Adam Grant (00:12:36):
I'm sorry. Say that again.

Crowd (00:12:36):
(laughs).

Adam Grant (00:12:39):
Did you say I was right?

Crowd (00:12:39):
(laughs).

Adam Grant (00:12:42):
This is such a satisfying, early victory. I didn't expect it to happen. (laughs).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:12:46):
(laughs). You know, if, you can take pleasure in these small victories, Adam.

Adam Grant (00:12:50):
(laughs).

Crowd (00:12:50):
(laughs).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:12:50):
See how, see how far it gets you. Um, what was my point? Oh, the real issue is not what academics think though. It's that who believes this more than anyone else? I mean, cops.

Adam Grant (00:13:03):
Law enforcement.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:13:04):
L- uh, particularly. Cops are like the great offender. And that's because this is a book that begins and ends with a story of a police officer who gets someone very wrong.

Adam Grant (00:13:12):
Yeah.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:13:13):
Um, that's of relevance to me. You know-

Adam Grant (00:13:15):
So, we should be, uh, we should obviously be careful with facial expressions and body language.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:13:19):
Yeah.

Adam Grant (00:13:19):
I'm curious though, one of the things I was surprised by is you didn't ta- talk much about vocal cues in the book. And um, there was a, a paper that Michael Krauss published recently, uh, that he led, where, uh, it was five experiments where you have a chance to observe somebody expressing different emotions, both facially, body language, as well as vocally.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:13:37):
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adam Grant (00:13:37):
And the finding was that if you close your eyes-

Malcolm Gladwell (00:13:39):
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adam Grant (00:13:40):
... and you just listen to their voice, you read their emotions more accurately-

Malcolm Gladwell (00:13:43):
Yeah.

Adam Grant (00:13:43):
... than if you're looking at their face too. And so, I, I don't think we understand yet why this is, whether it's harder to control your voice and so, you know, your, your real anxiety might leak, or whether there, there are aspects of the voice that are, are less likely to vary from person to person-

Malcolm Gladwell (00:13:58):
Yeah.

Adam Grant (00:13:58):
... or culture to culture. Uh, but where, where have you come down on vocal cues? Should we trust them?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:14:02):
The, where ... I love the question, where do you come down on vocal cues? Where do you come down on one of humanity's major forms of communication?

Adam Grant (00:14:11):
(laughs).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:14:11):
Um, I don't know, Adam, I think I'm in favor of, of them.

Adam Grant (00:14:13):
(laughs).

Crowd (00:14:13):
(laughs).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:14:14):
Um, so, I'm gonna ask this question parenthetically, because I'm now in the podcast business. I'm in the, now in the vocal cues business.

Crowd (00:14:25):
(laughs).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:14:25):
And why is the vocal cue so kind of emotionally resonant? Maybe part of it is that, um, we are uniquely kind of susceptible or skilled in the way that we process audi- auditory cues, or maybe it, it is that the, that, um, your eyes are just a sour- source of such, so much noisy and misleading information.

Adam Grant (00:14:49):
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:14:50):
I think that whenever possible, um, unless you want to date the, the people that you should ... If you want to make an accurate assessment of someone, you shouldn't, you should try not to see them in the early bird.

Crowd (00:15:03):
(laughs).

Adam Grant (00:15:05):
Okay, hold on a second.

Crowd (00:15:06):
(laughs).

Adam Grant (00:15:06):
Because you, you went so far as to at least imply, if you didn't fully say, that parents should not even meet a babysitter and interview them-

Malcolm Gladwell (00:15:17):
Yeah.

Adam Grant (00:15:17):
... before they hire them to watch the kids.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:15:17):
Now, I'm not a parent. So, I'm quite free and clear of this.

Adam Grant (00:15:17):
You, you obviously don't have children.

Crowd (00:15:17):
(laughs).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:15:21):
But you ... Okay, so wait. Adam, you were talking earlier about contradictions. Let's discuss the contradiction that just came out of your mouth. So-

Crowd (00:15:28):
(laughs).

Adam Grant (00:15:28):
Wait. I, I'm the contradiction? Keep going.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:15:31):
You just said with great gusto, talking about somebody who said the auditory cue allows you to be much more skilled at making sense of s- of all manner of someone's character, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And then in the same breath, like not a minute later, you expressed outrage at the notion that you'd want to, that you would not want to meet your babysitter. Well, I thought you just said the auditory cue was better. Call the babysitter up. You just said that was better.

Adam Grant (00:15:57):
No, I want the behavioral cue. I want to see if they drive like a maniac into our driveway. I want to see when they see show up on time-

Malcolm Gladwell (00:16:04):
Wait. Do you ... When you ... Wait. W- w- w- wait. When you're previewing babysitters, do you take them for a drive?

Crowd (00:16:08):
(laughs).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:16:08):
What? This is-

Adam Grant (00:16:08):
No, you-

Malcolm Gladwell (00:16:09):
I've never heard this before.

Adam Grant (00:16:10):
You watch out the window and you're surreptitiously tracking their driving habits before they come in.

Crowd (00:16:14):
(laughs).

Adam Grant (00:16:14):
You know, yeah.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:16:16):
How many babysitters are like squealing their wheels-

Adam Grant (00:16:19):
(laughs).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:16:19):
... as they ...

Crowd (00:16:19):
(laughs).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:16:20):
Do you have some like incredibly long winding driveway up there in wherever you live?

Adam Grant (00:16:25):
I do, in fact.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:16:25):
I l- (laughs).

Adam Grant (00:16:27):
I, I also, I want to see if they show up on time.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:16:29):
Oh, I, as I said, I'm not a parent. So, I don't, this is all abstract to me.

Adam Grant (00:16:32):
Clearly not.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:16:33):
Presumably-

Crowd (00:16:33):
(laughs).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:16:34):
I, because when I was, all I know is that when I was a child and we had babysitters, I did not want to interact with them. Why would I want to interact with them? Some, my parents dragged some stranger into the my, into the house, who's in- invariably annoying. I'd like to be left alone.

Crowd (00:16:46):
(laughs).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:16:47):
(laughs).

Adam Grant (00:16:47):
This explains a lot right now.

Crowd (00:16:49):
(laughs).

Adam Grant (00:16:50):
I understand the life you lead so much better. Um, so okay. So I, um, I have-

Malcolm Gladwell (00:16:57):
Yeah.

Adam Grant (00:16:57):
... some bones to pick. Uh, we, we can talk more about the book-

Malcolm Gladwell (00:16:59):
Yeah.

Adam Grant (00:16:59):
... but I know you wanted to talk about other things that we disagree on. So, this has kind of been annoying me for 14 years.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:17:04):
Okay.

Adam Grant (00:17:05):
'Cause, uh, I think you first told me about it when we first met on your Blink tour.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:17:08):
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay, okay. Got it. You've, you've carried this festering annoyance around with you f- now for 14 years?

Adam Grant (00:17:15):
It's almost a grudge.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:17:16):
Yeah.

Adam Grant (00:17:16):
Uh, but not quite.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:17:17):
Okay, okay.

Adam Grant (00:17:17):
So the, the issue is you wrote this whole book about how chance and luck and opportunity are much more important than we realize in shaping our success.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:17:25):
Mmm.

Adam Grant (00:17:26):
And you didn't mention anywhere in the book that single best predictor that we have of anything we can measure is your intelligence.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:17:32):
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adam Grant (00:17:32):
Your cognitive ability.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:17:33):
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adam Grant (00:17:34):
That's true across jobs. It's more true as jobs gets, get more complex. And that's all luck, right. I didn't choose my intelligence. I was born into it. It's highly heritable. And so there would have been such a compelling chapter of that book that says, "Hey, you know what, how smart you are is, is one of the biggest determinants, if not the biggest determinant, of how your future is going to turn out. And guess what, that was kind of a, it was a, it was a lottery."

Malcolm Gladwell (00:17:56):
I was just trying to us to stop falling in love with people just because they have sky high IQs.

Adam Grant (00:18:00):
Which is fair.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:18:01):
Yeah.

Adam Grant (00:18:02):
But I, um, I thought it would have been a really interesting argument to say, "Hey, wait a minute. You know, this, this thing that you have no control over is actually a, a big driver of"

Malcolm Gladwell (00:18:09):
Yeah.

Adam Grant (00:18:10):
... "of your fame and fortune and, and your success."

Malcolm Gladwell (00:18:12):
I don't-

Adam Grant (00:18:12):
But you don't like that story, do you?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:18:16):
Well, is it a story? I, I mean, so I actually, uh, in January started a company with my friend Jacob to make podcasts.

Adam Grant (00:18:25):
Pushkin.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:18:26):
Pushkin. It's called Pushkin. We now have 16 employees. And the, the thing about intelligence is that it's not a scarce commodity. And so the things that predict success in that select universe have been, not have nothing to do with intelligence, but they are, they are, uh, parallel to intelligence. So I'm in- what I'm really interested in is conscientiousness and hard work and, um, curiosity and flexibility and all those kinds of things. When I, uh, interview people for a job, they're all smart enough.

Adam Grant (00:19:05):
You think so?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:19:06):
Yeah. I'm way more interested in, in can you get your work done on time? So, there are certain things, very particular things that I'm increasingly interested in, and I think are really, really useful predictors of real success at the kind of granular level. So one is the kind of, people's willingness to, to persevere past the point of pretty good.

Adam Grant (00:19:31):
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:19:32):
Now that does not strike me as having anything to do with intelligence. And in fact, a lot of really, really smart people I know don't persevere past the point of pretty good. But I really, really, really, really want to work with people who will do that. Um, you know, I'm thinking of someone in my podcast company right now, I think s- I have no idea what her IQ is. I assume it's super high. I have no clue. What I do know is that she's insanely good at this thing of pushing past pretty good.

Adam Grant (00:19:59):
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:19:59):
She won't ... I will stop and say, "It's good enough," and she will not. And she's right and I'm wrong. And a lot of my podcasts are, they get into her hands and they go from B pluses to A pluses, and that, I don't know what that is. She has it. I can't ... There are very few people who have that, and I do not think it's because she got double 800s on her SATs.

Adam Grant (00:20:24):
Yeah. Yeah, it sounds like she's a maximizer, rather, rather than a satisficer, and also sky high achievement motivation.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:20:30):
Yes. So, now doesn't that suggest that your kind of highly reductive, very un-Adam like, highly reductive, um, obsession with intelligence needs some correction?

Adam Grant (00:20:43):
No, of course not.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:20:44):
Wait, but that has nothing to do ... Her being those two things, whatever they were in the particular jargon you're using in the moment, uh-

Adam Grant (00:20:49):
(laughs).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:20:53):
... that is not, that's not correlated with intelligence, is it?

Adam Grant (00:20:55):
No, not at all.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:20:56):
Is it-

Adam Grant (00:20:56):
Completely uncorrelated, in fact.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:20:57):
Thank you, thank you. Thank you.

Adam Grant (00:20:58):
So, of course I won. But-

Malcolm Gladwell (00:20:59):
My work here is done.

Adam Grant (00:21:00):
All right.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:21:01):
(laughs).

Adam Grant (00:21:01):
Uh, what else should we-

PART 1 OF 4 ENDS [00:21:04]

Malcolm Gladwell (00:21:00):
Our work here is done. (laughs)

Malcolm Gladwell (00:21:00):
All right. Uh-

Malcolm Gladwell (00:21:03):
What else are we talking about, Adam?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:21:04):
No, but in fact, I, I think this is interesting. We're at a place like Penn where intelligence is a filter.

Adam Grant (00:21:11):
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:21:11):
I've been wondering whether we should have intelligence diversity. Uh, and we should deliberately admit people who are not as bright as the average student- [crosstalk 00:21:18]

Adam Grant (00:21:18):
Well, you do it's call legacies.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:21:20):
With what?

Adam Grant (00:21:21):
I said you do, they're called legacies.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:21:23):
Wow.

Adam Grant (00:21:23):
(laughs)

Malcolm Gladwell (00:21:23):
Wait. Why- So just bef- before we go further, how many legacies in the room, so we know?

Adam Grant (00:21:34):
(laughs)

Malcolm Gladwell (00:21:36):
All right, no- no one's willing to raise their hands. Um, I I actually haven't seen the empirical data on whether legacies are less intelligent-

Adam Grant (00:21:42):
Oh, di- did you not see the big study that was done, that came out last week?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:21:46):
No, tell us.

Adam Grant (00:21:47):
So, there was a paper published, um, because of the lawsuit filed by Asian American students against Harvard University on the grounds that they were being discriminated against in the admissions process. Harvard was forc- forced to turn over its admissions data, and the admissions data are super fascinating. And, uh, in the category of white students who are either legacy faculty children, donors' kids, or athletes, 43% of the white total fell into the- one of those five categories. And virtually everyone in one of those five categories would not have been admitted without, um, having one of those qualifications. So, white affirmative action is a very, very big deal at Harvard University. And, it comes lar- almost entirely at the expense of Asian students. So, uh, it, to answer your question, yes, uh, Harvard is actively practicing precisely what you are prescribing for Penn.

Adam Grant (00:22:44):
(laughs)

Malcolm Gladwell (00:22:44):
Um, they call it something different, but admitting lots of legacy and donor kids, um, is a way of, of having intelligence diversity and you can-

Adam Grant (00:22:53):
(laughs)

Malcolm Gladwell (00:22:57):
You can, you should go and ask them how well that experiment's tur- turning out. Maybe it works really well. I don't know. I mean-

Adam Grant (00:23:03):
So.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:23:03):
It certainly helps with fundraising, right?

Adam Grant (00:23:05):
(laughs)

Malcolm Gladwell (00:23:05):
It seems to be-

Adam Grant (00:23:05):
(laughs)

Malcolm Gladwell (00:23:07):
The principle since Harvard University, like other Ivies, is a a hedge fund with a, an intell- uh, education operation attached to it as a fundraising arm.

Adam Grant (00:23:16):
(laughs)

Malcolm Gladwell (00:23:16):
It's what it is. I mean, I don't know why you're laughing. That's what it is. You have a f- Harvard is a $40 billion, it's a $40 billion hedge fund. Harvard operates this thing in Cambridge which funnels in kids who send them money once they graduate. Like, I don't understand why this is hard.

Adam Grant (00:23:37):
(laughs) So I want to, I want to shift gears a little bit. So, uh, there are some revisionist history episodes that I listen to and, uh, I had some strong reactions to, uh, that I want to push you on a little bit. So, one of the things that you did was that you introduced this idea of casuistry, which I thought was brilliant. Uh, and you basically, I think, if I heard you right, you landed it saying, "We should continue banning performance enhancing drugs, but performance restoring drugs should be fine."

Malcolm Gladwell (00:24:05):
Yeah, well what I wanted to do... So the casuis- the Jesuit tradition of casuistry is all about trying to resolve difficult moral dilemmas, new moral dilemmas, without resorting to principles. So what you do is you take an existing case that you agree with and an existing case that you disagree with, and you see w- is it closer to the one or the other? So there's two cases. One is where we're using an artificial means to restore our ability and one is an artificial means to transform our ability. I don't understand why there is this weird notion that just because something is a product of, of pharmaceutical ingenuity, we can't use it to recover from an injury, right? That's seems crazy to me.

Adam Grant (00:24:44):
Yeah. I find that convincing. Uh, the thing that, that I started to think about more that left me wondering, though, was why should we stop at performance restoring? So I, as a kid, wanted to make the NBA.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:24:55):
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Adam Grant (00:24:56):
You start high school less than five feet tall. You feel like it's probably not going to happen.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:24:59):
Yeah.

Adam Grant (00:25:00):
And so then you start to wonder, well why should I only be able to restore myself to my natural ability? Why should I not be able to be as fast as any of the players that I looked up to? Um, how do you know where to draw the line on that? And why, why is it fair, then, to give some players their, their natural genetic advantages?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:25:16):
Yeah. Well, you know, we're about to... This is all going to happen, right, with, with, um, recent, all these recent advances in, um, gene editing and such. People are going to be trying at least to engineer these a- athletes, is... Athletes are the first place we're going to do this. It may be the case that we may need to kind of put a, a, a fence around a lot of athletic arenas and ask ourselves, what is interesting to us about a- athletic competition? Maybe what's interesting to me about watching a basketball game is the knowledge that I am watching people exactly as they were, um, born to be. But also there's another interesting... which is like... So I had this, I I had a really fascinating discussion with some guy about the notion of recovery. And he was talking about LeBron James.

Adam Grant (00:26:05):
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Malcolm Gladwell (00:26:06):
A lot of it is the fact that LeBron gets more sleep than everybody else. Right? You know, he's-

Adam Grant (00:26:11):
You might not be able to say than one again for this audience.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:26:12):
(laughs) He is maniacal about sleep and sleep is the single most powerful determinant of your ability to recover. Part of what makes him interesting is that he's the guy who takes sleep seriously. But I'd hate to kind of remove that from consideration.

Adam Grant (00:26:24):
Yeah. Well, I like, I like your... I think your argument, if I can put it in psychology language, is that it's not his maximum performance that makes him great. It's his typical performance.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:26:32):
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Adam Grant (00:26:34):
And I think that, I think that's actually of probably for most people.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:26:36):
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Adam Grant (00:26:37):
Um, I wondered... You did another episode on rules for life.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:26:40):
Yeah.

Adam Grant (00:26:41):
Where you claimed you had a lot of them, but you didn't release most of them. Uh, would you add this as a rule for life, and can you give us some of your other rules for life?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:26:48):
Add what as a rule for life?

Adam Grant (00:26:49):
This idea that it's better to be consistent, consistently good than intermittently excellent.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:26:55):
Oh. I hadn't thought about that... uh, I like them. Uh. First of all, I hadn't thought about this difference between your optimal performance and your average performance in a typical performance. Um, that's actually a really lovely little concept. Um, we, so l- let's play with that for a moment. What does that mean exactly? So if I like, if I prefer your typical self to your optimal self, what does that mean in terms of our friendship?

Adam Grant (00:27:22):
Yes. This is, this is a very strange way of interacting as friends. Uh, but strangely my favorite one.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:27:29):
(laughs)

Adam Grant (00:27:29):
But what, um-

Malcolm Gladwell (00:27:31):
No, no.

Adam Grant (00:27:32):
No, I don't think you'd ever want that, but I think that, often, in sports, and we do this when we hire, too, in, in professional jobs. We want to see how good they are at their best.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:27:40):
I just realized something.

Adam Grant (00:27:41):
What?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:27:42):
The last time we had a conversation, we had an argument. You said that you thought comedians had one of the hardest jobs of anyone.

Adam Grant (00:27:50):
I said they were better psychologists, I think.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:27:52):
But you said it's really hard to be a good comedian. And I said it's harder to be a good teacher.

Adam Grant (00:27:56):
Yes.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:27:56):
And y- you vehemently disagreed with this.

Adam Grant (00:27:58):
I did.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:27:59):
But this, the way to resolve disagreement is exactly this. A comedian is measured-

Adam Grant (00:28:04):
I thought we already resolved it?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:28:04):
No, no, no. Th- thi- You talk about- [crosstalk 00:28:07]

Adam Grant (00:28:07):
You still haven't changed your mind? Really?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:28:09):
Things that have been festering. This has been festering. (laughs) But this is the explanation, we're talking... It's apples and oranges. A comedian is measured in terms of their optimal performance. They have a carefully rehearsed, time-limited performance, and that is how we come to understand their genius. A teacher is all about typical performances. A teacher, you measure a teacher on their ability day in, day out-

Adam Grant (00:28:32):
Yeah.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:28:32):
To come in and keep ev- an even keel... you know, in the face of all kinds of provocation and exhaustion and what have you, they have to remain this consistent, calming presence in the classroom. So, it is two profoundly different tasks. So the right answer is that both are impressive, for very different reasons. It so happens that I valorize typical performance, and you have an affection for optimal performance. Right?

Adam Grant (00:28:55):
No. No, I think your whole analysis is, is right, except you're thinking about the wrong kind of comedians which I was not clear about a year and a half ago. So, the, the comedians I had in mind were two kinds of comedians. One were comedy writers, uh, who have to go and do it day in, day out. So I was thinking about, you know, Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David writing Seinfeld.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:29:11):
Yeah.

Adam Grant (00:29:11):
Um, you know, and producing, what 200 episodes of-

Malcolm Gladwell (00:29:14):
We were talking about performance.

Adam Grant (00:29:16):
Yeah, but that is their performance, right, is to actually create the script.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:29:20):
Yep.

Adam Grant (00:29:21):
And the other was improv comedy, where you have to do it on the fly. Uh, and you get judged on every single idea that you-

Malcolm Gladwell (00:29:26):
But improv is still optimal performance. It's not typical performance.

Adam Grant (00:29:29):
It might be.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:29:29):
Unless the improve lasts for, like, weeks which gets to a whole different matter.

Adam Grant (00:29:34):
(laughs) Yeah, but I was thinking about aggregating somebody who is good at improv night after night, right, so-

Malcolm Gladwell (00:29:39):
But wait. So, the also interesting thing about hiring people, so, you're right. The job interview is measuring optimal when, in many cases, we're interested in typical.

Adam Grant (00:29:45):
Yes.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:29:46):
So, um, how would you change hiring for your department at Penn if you were interested in typical?

Adam Grant (00:29:52):
Right. I'm interviewing you, here. What's going on?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:29:54):
No, no, this is interesting.

Adam Grant (00:29:55):
You're asking me questions?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:29:56):
Yes. What, tell me what typical hiring looks like if you did it at Penn.

Adam Grant (00:29:59):
What are we hiring for? Faculty, staff-

Malcolm Gladwell (00:30:01):
Faculty.

Adam Grant (00:30:02):
Faculty. So faculty hiring, we, uh, first read all their research papers.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:30:06):
Yeah.

Adam Grant (00:30:06):
And decide-

Malcolm Gladwell (00:30:07):
That's optimal.

Adam Grant (00:30:07):
Whether their work is interesting and rigorous and important.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:30:10):
That's optimal.

Adam Grant (00:30:11):
Uh.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:30:11):
That's optimal.

Adam Grant (00:30:12):
Yes. Although if we have enough of them, we're starting to move toward how optimal are, is their typical or vice versa.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:30:19):
Yeah.

Adam Grant (00:30:19):
And then we have them come in and do, uh, what's called a job talk where they present on their new research to a group of faculty. Uh, and we interrupt a lot and grill them on their findings and then we get a taste of how they, you know, handle criticism, of how they perform in front of an audience who's actually often tougher than our own students.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:30:35):
Yeah. Is that, that's optimal, not typical.

Adam Grant (00:30:38):
Uh, probably. Yeah.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:30:39):
Yeah.

Adam Grant (00:30:39):
But then we also look at their teaching evaluations and their student feedback and that, I think, is more typical.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:30:44):
Yeah. Yeah.

Adam Grant (00:30:45):
I think I have some lighting round questions.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:30:47):
Okay.

Adam Grant (00:30:47):
Are you up for them?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:30:48):
Yup.

Adam Grant (00:30:49):
Okay. Uh. Favorite book you've read this year?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:30:57):
Uh...

Adam Grant (00:30:58):
Favorite book you wrote this year.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:30:59):
(laugh) I just read a really great book about, uh, uh, the [inaudible 00:31:07] that I just thought was kind of fantastic.

Adam Grant (00:31:10):
(laughs) Good. All right. What, um, if you could give one piece of advice to your twenty-on- 21 or 27-year-old self, what would you say?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:31:18):
21, I should have left North America. I thought about it, had a chance to, and didn't. And I c- completely regret it. The same. 27... I actually at 27 had another opportunity to go somewhere and didn't go and r- regret it.

Adam Grant (00:31:35):
How do you know if you're successful? H-

Malcolm Gladwell (00:31:38):
You can do what you want?

Adam Grant (00:31:39):
Really, freedom? Not impact?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:31:42):
No. It's about, like, yeah, no one's standing in the way of what you want to do, read, write... Go.

Adam Grant (00:31:50):
But you achieved that 15 years ago.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:31:52):
Yeah, I was successful 15 years ago. (laughs)

Adam Grant (00:31:56):
And now?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:31:57):
Well, I guess, I still am. I mean-

Adam Grant (00:31:58):
But you've-

Malcolm Gladwell (00:31:59):
No one's stopping me-

Adam Grant (00:32:00):
But you have a company now, you've constrained yourself more. Isn't that-

Malcolm Gladwell (00:32:03):
Either, either, they don't... They don't involve me in anything significant. I'm just arm candy for the operation. (laughs)

Adam Grant (00:32:10):
Suspicion confirmed. All right. Last question, uh, we have a group of students in the audience who often describe them-, describe themselves as insecure overachievers.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:32:19):
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Adam Grant (00:32:20):
What is the one piece of advice you would most like to offer them?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:32:23):
Insecure overachievers. Why would you call yourself... Do you self-identify as an insecure overachiever because you're insecure?

Adam Grant (00:32:33):
Me? No.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:32:34):
No. The group. Why would you ident- I mean, is that a bad thing to be? It's probably a good thing to be, right? It means... because the insecurity is driving the overachieving.

Adam Grant (00:32:42):
Probably.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:32:43):
I would hire an insecure overachiever. (laughs) I think that's what that person I was talking about, my company, that I like so much, I think that's what she is. And it's fan- it's fantastic.

Adam Grant (00:32:55):
So, you mentioned when we were walking on stage, uh, uh, that you, you've, you read an article about how the whole United States is southern?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:33:04):
Oh yeah. Yeah, this is um, I- I've been obsessed with this recently. So, I first read this essay a couple years ago when I did a podcast episode on, uh, the Brown decision. And it is a p- African American professor of History at Chicago called Charles Payne who wrote this essay maybe 15 years ago called The Whole United States is Southern, which is... remains... I think is the most brilliant... one of the most brilliant essays I've ever r- I've read. Um, and it was, uh... That phrase was, um, was, uh, something that George Wallace, the infamous segregationist governor of Alabama in the late 60s, once famously said.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:33:50):
Payne's argument was that the project of, uh, southern white segregationists and racists, during the Civil Rights Movement, was to personalize the discussion of racism. So, their argument was, "If only Black people and white people can look each other in the eye and be nice to each other, and be polite to each other, open doors for each other, and do all those kinds of things, we'll be fine." And the reason they wanted to do that is that they desperately wanted to distract attention from the institutional response to racism, to segregation and gerrymandering and voter suppression and redlining and all that kind of-

Adam Grant (00:34:28):
Yeah.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:34:29):
Um, and I- the title... When George Wallace famously says, "The whole United States is southern," what he meant was, we won. Our way of thinking about race has won the day. That we can distract everyone with arguments and little p- petty discussions about conduct such that they will stop talking about institutional questions. So why did, why is this s- come up for me? Well, my book only considers the, the quest- right? The, the book begins and ends with the t- famous case of, infamous case of Sandra Bland, right, the young Black woman who's pulled over by a police officer and it's... I'm talking about the broader problem we've had with these encounters between the African Americans and th- um, law enforcement.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:35:14):
But I don't talk explicitly about race, or I don't talk explicitly about whether or not the cops who were confronting these African Americans are racist. That, that question is absent from the book. Why? Because I wanted to talk about this entirely along structural terms. I wanted to talk about what are the institutional mechanisms that create these fateful encounters between African Americans and law enforcement. I don't want to fall into the whole United States is southern problem of saying, "Oh, that case is about a racist cop." Because whenever we make that, draw that conclusion, we, like, we think we're done. Well, like, "Well, what are you going to do? That's racist. S- s- sorry about that. Next time, we'll do better." We say that, and because we keep saying that, the problem does not get better. These, this issue has been going on for, in this country, hundreds of years, right, and if you look actually at the numbers, you know, we've had pretty consistently, for a long time now, about a thousand deaths every year of civilians at the hands of law enforcement. We're not mak- That is way out of sync with other western democracies.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:36:20):
We're not making any progress on this. I have now gotten to the point where I'm not even sure if there is a conflict between institutional arguments and personal arguments... if it comes down to whether you let in tens of thousands of refugees or whether you wore brown-face to a party, I I really don't care what you wore to a party. I promise you, I don't want to hear it. I don't want to people to spend time on it. I don't want to spend... waste energy on it. I'm much more concerned about the thousands of people who are, you know, suffering in some country and have nowhere to go. I want to judge people on a very different set of criteria.

Adam Grant (00:36:53):
So, I'm curious about why this happens. So it seems to me that, that a big part of the... and this is not just true for racism, it's also how we deal with sexism a lot, um. It seems like a big part of it is because we're much better intuitive psychologists than we are sociologists.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:37:06):
Yeah.

Adam Grant (00:37:06):
So, we explain behavior in terms of people's individual motivations and values and attitudes, um, and we're horrible at seeing the, the collective forces that, that affect all of us. Do you think that's the story? Is there more behind this?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:37:22):
Uh. I mean that's, I mean it's a really, really, really good question. I want... Actually, I feel like you are better positioned than I am to answer. I'm a little bit baffled by it because we did go through a period in this country, and many other countries, where we were very interested in structural solutions to problems. But it's kind of fallen out of favor. I feel there's something that's gone on very recently where it is somehow way easier for us to describe, to get worked up about black-face, than it is for us to get worked up about voter suppression.

Adam Grant (00:37:55):
Yeah.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:37:56):
And I don't underst- I do not understand that.

Adam Grant (00:37:58):
I think maybe the other factor that comes to mind is there's a lot of evidence for efficacy being a problem, right? So I don't, I don't feel like I can change a structure or influence an institution, whereas the idea that I might be able to get an individual person to be less racist or less sexist feels a little bit more palatable. And so-

Malcolm Gladwell (00:38:14):
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Adam Grant (00:38:14):
I think people just put more faith in, in these kind of more individual factors. But they don't solve the problem. [crosstalk 00:38:19]

Malcolm Gladwell (00:38:18):
But in fact, isn't the truth the opposite? Isn't the truth that it's actually easier to change structural things than it is to change interpersonal attitudes?

Adam Grant (00:38:25):
Probably collectively, but not for me, right?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:38:28):
Like-

Adam Grant (00:38:28):
Not as an individual citizen.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:38:31):
Do I think we could productively, uh, solve, gerrymandering and voter suppression, d- it's? Yeah. I actually think we can. I don- I don't think...

Adam Grant (00:38:41):
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Malcolm Gladwell (00:38:41):
And I think if we paid more than five minutes attention to it, it wouldn't take that long.

Adam Grant (00:38:45):
Yeah. But we is the operative word.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:38:47):
Yeah. I agree.

Adam Grant (00:38:54):
Since Malcolm and I talked, the police brutality against George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many others has led many people to reflect on how they can become anti-racist. One of the most important lines of research I've read is by Miguel Unzueta and Brian Lowery. They find that seeing racism as an individual problem allows white people to distance ourselves from it. "Not me, I'm not prejudiced. I don't believe any group is superior or inferior." Recognizing it as an institutional problem requires us to admit that we've benefited from unfair systems, or at least haven't been held back based on the color of our skin. We'll have more on this topic this season on WorkLife. Welcome back to Taken for Granted, and my live conversation with Malcolm Gladwell. We recently caught up on Clubhouse, where Malcolm asked me some questions about my new book, Think Again. Our chat was hosted by the amazing Kat Cole.

Kat Cole (00:40:15):
From the room. Welcome.

Adam Grant (00:40:16):
You may remember her from the WorkLife episode on networking for people who hate networking. It was about how being a helper helped Kat rise to the top of Cinnabon at a shockingly young age.

Kat Cole (00:40:28):
Uh and Malcolm-

Adam Grant (00:40:29):
She invited some insightful comments and questions from an all-star group of listeners. So you'll hear some of their voices as well.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:40:35):
Adam, can you give us, can you give us an overview of Think Again?

Adam Grant (00:40:39):
The core idea, uh, builds on some brilliant work that my colleague Phil Tetlock did. Uh, and the, the premise is that we spend a lot of our life with these mindsets of occupations that we never have worked in. We find ourselves thinking, like, preachers, prosecutors, and politicians more often than we would want to admit. When I'm in preacher mode, I'm trying to proselytize. When I'm a prosecutor, I'm trying to win a case and prove you wrong. When I'm a politician, I have a constituent. I'm trying to get their approval, so I'm doing all this campaigning and lobbying. My big worry with preaching and prosecuting is that people are not willing to think again. Because "I'm right. You're wrong. You're the one who needs to change. I'm good."

Adam Grant (00:41:22):
When people are in politician mode, they look a little bit more flexible but all they're doing is they're flip-flopping what they say in order to communicate what they think their audience wants to hear. And so, if it looks like they're rethinking, they're doing it at the wrong time for the wrong reasons, or they're just towing the party line and appealing to their tribe without actually changing their internal beliefs. My hope is that people will think a little bit more like scientists and say, "You know what, I don't have to believe everything I think. I don't have to internalize every emotion I feel. When I start to form an opinion, that's just a hypothesis. Let me go out into the world, run some experiments, observe, talk to people, and test the hypothesis. And I should be, then, surrounding myself with people who don't-"

PART 2 OF 4 ENDS [00:42:04]

Adam Grant (00:42:00):
And I should be then surrounding myself with people who don't just agree with my conclusions but actually challenge my thought process. And the goal of all that is, is to try to break us free of over-confidence cycles where we take pride in our knowledge. We have too much conviction that leads us to confirmation bias, and then we become a little bit arrogant. What I want to do is activate rethinking cycles where we have the humility to know what we don't know. We doubt some of our convictions. That makes us curious to go and discover new things, and that reinforces this mindset of being a lifelong learning. Saying, "Wow. I just learned something. There's so much more to learn."

Malcolm Gladwell (00:42:36):
Um, well, you have, uh, written another, uh, uh, wonderful book. And I, I find that actually there's so many fascinating things. My only critique of this... I have a critique of this book, by the way. I-

Adam Grant (00:42:47):
I hope you have more than one.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:42:49):
I, I have several. But my, my large one, which is a... is it's four books. The-

Adam Grant (00:42:55):
(laughs).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:42:57):
I'm reading this book, I was like, "Why are you..." I, you're like jumping ahead to the next idea, and I'm not done with the one you're one. I, I, either you have to, you have to like, you know, slow down and wr-, write and chop your ideas into pieces and devote... Or you have to write longer books. You can't, you can't keep doing this and like ra-... Anyway, that's a... It's a very mild... It's a, It's a, It's flattery designed as, disguised as criticism. Um. But I, I wanted to start... I, I, I kept thinking when I was reading this book, how does this fit in with Adam's previous books? And I'm wondering, do we have a kind of emerging Adam Grant philosophy of life? Can you talk about how does this one fit with your previous books?

Adam Grant (00:43:47):
I think this... It's an interesting question, and I, and I will accept your backhanded compliment any day. Uh, thank you for the enthusiasm and also the criticism, which I look forward to more of. I- I guess this book is, is sort of a meta book, uh, in that in, in each of the books I've written before, what I've tried to do is I've tried to get people to rethink something that I think that they've gotten wrong or maybe an assumption that's been incomplete.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:44:13):
Mm-hmm (affirmative). The... But do you... What I want is whether you think there is a kind of Adam Grant ideology that's emerging from writing all these? Are you getting a kind of sense of, "What a minute, here is how I see the world. And if you read all my books, you'll get this Grant-ian vision."

Adam Grant (00:44:34):
Yes. Although it would be a little ironic to commit to an ideology because then I'm not staying open to rethinking my opinions and beliefs, am I?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:44:43):
No, no. You can have a component. You can have an ideo-, an ideologies, which is that you revisit your ideology. That's fine.

Adam Grant (00:44:50):
No, I think, I think there is a, there's an overarching thread that runs through all my work, which I- I didn't see until I'd written a couple of books. The thread is that the very things that you think are critical for success in life can actually be attained through building character. And I think that, that my work has, has looked at different kinds of character strengths and said you don't have to choose between your goals and those virtues. Whether it's generosity or now it's, you know, it's humility. So I guess what I'm looking for at large is a way to align character with, uh, with, with achievement. How's that?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:45:30):
Yeah. No, that, that actually, that fits with... That's what I've always sort of sensed in-

Adam Grant (00:45:38):
Well, why didn't you just tell me that a few years ago because then I would've understood who I was and what I was trying to achieve.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:45:42):
No, no, no. But I'm curious, I mean, because I'm always very attracted to, um, to religious themes in things, to sort of bar- particularly if they're kind of slightly sublimated. But it always struck me that there was some, there was some kind of moral case being made in your books that maybe you weren't making explicitly, but that there was something about reading your books that felt very comfortable to someone who is used to thinking about the world in terms of character, ethics, morality, those kinds of things. Like if I... I was thinking if I had a Bible study of Evangelicals and I said, "And this week, we're not reading the New Testament. We're going to read the works of Adam Grant." I think actually people with that kind of world view would, would be very at home with the arguments that you're making.

Adam Grant (00:46:37):
That's interesting. I, I, I love it when, when ancient wisdom matches up with modern science, and I think where the ancient wisdom often leaves me short is around, you know, okay. A lot... For me, at least, a lot of the principles and recommendations that come out of religious traditions are missing the nuance about how do you actually do this in life. Right? So yeah, of course, you want to be a generous person, but how do you give to others in a way that prevents you or protects you from burning out or just getting burned by the most selfish takers around? Yes, I want to be humble, but I don't want to become meek or lack confidence.

Adam Grant (00:47:18):
So I think... I, I guess what I want to do in, in a lot of my work is, is try to use evidence to pick up where, where these, these higher principles leave off and ask, okay, what does it mean to do this without sacrificing, you know, our ambitions?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:47:33):
Yeah. Yeah. But even that, I mean, that's why Christians have Bible studies, and that's why Jews study Torah because the original texts are... They are only the beginning, right? They require additional interpretation and, uh, understanding. They're not sufficient on their own. Otherwise they wouldn't... You wouldn't need to study them.

Adam Grant (00:47:57):
When it comes to having those conversations about the ideas in those texts, I just, I happen to love the tools of the scientific method as a way to figure out what's going to be effective for more of the people more of the time.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:48:08):
Yeah. Um. Am I right that this is the most... Your books are never explicitly personal nor are mine. That's not the game we're playing. However, the, I feel like this book is more personal than previous ones. I... There were many more glimpses into you and your own personal evolution and, than I've seen in previous books. Is that, is that accurate, first of all, or am I just imagining that?

Adam Grant (00:48:38):
Definitely accurate.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:48:40):
Why? So why? Why, why, why is this book more personal?

Adam Grant (00:48:47):
I think there, I think there are three reasons. The first one is that (laughs) I decided to take a longer window to write this book than I ever have before, and I want to, to go and test out a lot of the principles that I was learning about and gathering data on. And that generated a lot of stories and examples, some of which I thought were worthy of sharing.

Adam Grant (00:49:07):
Uh, the second reason was I, I felt like this is... It's so easy to tell other people to think again, and I think one of the things I've learned about getting people to open their minds to ideas that they might be resistant to is that if you can show openness and, and model that humility, that they tend to follow suit. And I thought the, (laughs) the more I could sort of show my cards and say, "Look, here are times when I've struggled to rethink things that I believed," or, "Here are situations when I've just run into a brick wall and just kept running anyway." You could, you know, you could see how hard this is that I often don't practice what I teach. And I thought, I thought maybe also if I shared those stories, that, uh, maybe I would benefit from some of the principles of self persuasion, which say that when, when you make an argument to convince somebody else, the person you're most likely to convince is yourself. I thought I could activate some cognitive dissonance, and the more I talked about these ideas, the more I wrote about my own personal struggles with them, the more I would end up holding myself accountable and getting other people to hold me accountable for, for actually living them.

Adam Grant (00:50:10):
And then the third reason is we, we sat down at the 92nd Street Y in 2016, and I remember your opening questions when you orig- you interviewed me about Originals was, "Why isn't there more of you in this book?" And I said, "Well, hello, pot. I'm kettle. You never write about yourself in your books." But I, I really spent a lot of time thinking about that, and I thought you just by asking the question, uh, sent a pretty strong signal that I should be willing to share more and open up.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:50:40):
Yeah. Yeah. Is it-

Adam Grant (00:50:41):
Do you regret planting that seed now?

Malcolm Gladwell (00:50:44):
No. I still want more. Um. Uh, you're convincing me of the value of... Like I thought the, the... The, the, the moments in this book that I loved the most were the ones when you were talking about your own experiences. Um. The, that was where... And very much to the point you would point to which is making, there's something you... Particularly when you're talking about humility and um, leaving your mind open to revisiting assumptions and things that when it's, which is an inherently difficult thing to ask anyone to do. You need the person who is asking you to do that to talk about their own experience, right? It's what, it's what not only convinces you that it's possible, but also establishes the authenticity of the argument. Right? Like I was... I want...

Malcolm Gladwell (00:51:40):
This is jumping ahead, but my favorite part of this whole book is when you start talking about how you changed the way you taught, you teach, and those little glimpses of things. And whenever you talk about, you know, inviting students to kind of, um, participate much more in the structure of classes and instruction and, and I just thought like the easiest thing for someone in your position would be to do the opposite is to say, "The students need me to give them the full 90 minutes of Adam Grant. I'm Adam Grant," right? I just thought that was really interesting that... Could you talk actually... Tell us a little bit. Let's talk about the book a bit now. Tell us a little bit about that portion of the book, and then... And reflect a little bit on how you made those ideas, how you, how you kind of approached those ideas in your own experience in the classroom.

Adam Grant (00:52:34):
When I started thinking about writing Think Again, I realized that I wasn't giving my students an opportunity to do it. The more we focused on evidence-based management, the less opportunity there was for students to question my arguments, the data I was bringing to the table, and also each other. So I decided I was going to throw out 20% of the class every year and try to rethink some of the core ideas that I was teaching, bring in new topics. And one of the things I did just to kick that off was I left a day of the syllabus open. It was blank, and I asked the students to generate ideas for what they wanted to do in class. I said, "I'll consider anything, as long as it has pedagogical value." And they came up with all these brilliant ideas.

Adam Grant (00:53:15):
The first year, they did this, this initiative called Dear Pen Freshman where they wrote letters to their former selves about the decisions they had wished they'd rethought, uh, about not declaring a major too soon, about not over-committing to a romantic relationship that was going in the wrong direction, about not making their, their resumes so full that they, they didn't leave time to build relationships. And it was, it was so powerful to watch it happen, and it ended up getting adopted in a bunch of other schools and so I saw that, and I said, "Okay. This is a staple in my class. We need to rethink what we teach and learn every single year." And the hope is that great ideas then get built into the structure and culture of the class. But more importantly, that students get in the habit of thinking again.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:53:58):
Mm-hmm (affirmative). What's the cost of that? I can see the benefits clearly. But there must have been cost. I mean, time costs. Are there... Does it make your life more complicated in some way?

Adam Grant (00:54:09):
It, it felt like a risk at first because (laughs) I didn't know exactly what the ideas were going to be, and at the end of the day, I, I became a professor because as a student, I had some extraordinarily empowering professors who gave me much more of a voice than I ever deserved and even let me run some of their labs when I was a college student. And I wanted to pay that forward. And I guess my first principle there was trust the students, and I'm really glad I did. I think the only other cost really was that, that we get so excited about the new ideas once they've rethought the class, that we're always adding new... (laughs) New... We're adding new activities and new content to the class, and it just keeps growing and ballooning. And it's hard to fit it into a semester.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:54:49):
Yeah, yeah. Um. There was a word that I kept waiting to see, and I could be wrong but I don't think it appears in the book. And it's the word pleasure. But... Which is odd to me that it doesn't appear or if it appears, it appears only briefly because it seems to me you are articulating, uh, an idea about where what is pleasurable in engagement in the world. That you think it's not just... You're not just making the argument that being willing to revisit your assumptions is useful in the utilitarian sense or more effective in managing certain kinds of problems. That doesn't strike me as being... Those are good things, but they're probably not sufficient. I sense that you had a more ambitious agenda. That you were also saying that this is actually a better way subjectively to live your life. That it will bring you more happiness in the end to be this open. And I wondered am I right, first of all? And two, should you have made that point more explicit?

Adam Grant (00:56:00):
Fascinating. I think I, I tried to get at this a little bit in, in Chapter Three On The Joy of Being Wrong. That joy of being surprised and delighted by discovering that your beliefs about something that matters, uh, might have been incomplete or incorrect is something I think we should all experience not only because it's fun and stokes curiosity but also because it allows us to, to run experiments in our own lives and shift the choices that we make. And I guess I, I wanted to get at that indirectly a little bit too in, in Chapter 11 On Rethinking Our Career and Life Choices to say, "Look, so many of us end up only doing our rethinking in hindsight, and that leaves us with a lot of regret. Saying, 'If only I had... If I had chosen a different major or considered a different career or married a different person, I might've had a different life.'" And I think there's obviously a lot of benefit that can come from doing that rethinking up front.

Adam Grant (00:56:55):
And I don't know though if it's always directly going to lead to happiness. I think there's, there's a new research in psychology by Shigehiro Oishi and his colleagues which says we mostly when we talk about people's emotional experiences or their subjective experiences in life, we're mostly talking about happiness. And now we started to add meaning. And I think those are two reasonable things to focus on. But there's a third dimension of peo-, what people seek out in life, which is called psychological richness, uh, which I think is a great concept. Psychological richness is I'm having interesting experiences. I'm learning new things. And I don't know if being, uh, an enthusiastic rethinker will always bring you happiness or even meaning, but I think it definitely leads to a richer life.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:57:38):
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, that's int-, that's really good. That's... So you're... But you are... But the book amounts to an argument for that then, for the, for us raising the value of, um, psychological richness as a goal. Right? It's you are articulating it kind of. I mean, I'm... The reason I'm getting at this is that I was struck by (laughs) be, be, because I am, as you know, a Blackberry, uh, fanatic, uh, and user, not [crosstalk 00:58:08] too strong a word. Um, it's from the, they make it in my hometown. I have a, you know, um... It came out of my dad's university.

Malcolm Gladwell (00:58:15):
Um, and you have a little thing where you talk about Mike Lazaridis how ran, ran Blackberry for many years, and he made this error. And they went from 50% market share to whatever it was, 5% in five years, um, because they failed to understand the smartphone revolution, they typing on a keyboard as opposed... Uh, typing on a screen as... Et cetera, et cetera. He was now willing to revisit his assumptions about what a smartphone, uh, could be. And I was thinking about that, and I was like but, you know, when I go home sometimes to visit my mom, I sometimes see Mike Lazaridis like buying books in the bookstore. He doesn't live that far from my mother. He's a very happy guy. He doesn't have any regrets. I don't think... He built this beautiful house with all these trees outside. You know, I...

Adam Grant (00:59:02):
(laughs).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:59:03):
I think he's like doing cool projects. He made himself, I don't know, billion dollars probably. At the end of the day, you know, I suppose he could've... His shareholders might be upset that he didn't rethink his assumptions, but I... It was very hard for me to think of Mike Lazaridis as being a loser.

Adam Grant (00:59:26):
(laughs).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:59:26):
And he also like... So what if he rode it all the way down? Like he believed in a certain kind of aesthetic functionality in a phone. Like I happen to believe that too. Mike chose me over the many millions who wanted a phone that did everything. Like I don't know.

Adam Grant (00:59:45):
(laughs).

Malcolm Gladwell (00:59:46):
Is that any different... And with this, I'll let you... Um, I was thinking this in the context of I'm also a fan of, a deeply committed, diehard fan of the Buffalo Bills. If you know anything about football, you know that that is just an [crosstalk 01:00:03]-

Adam Grant (01:00:03):
Oh.

Malcolm Gladwell (01:00:03):
... has been for 30 years an invitation to masochism.

Adam Grant (01:00:07):
(laughs). Starting with Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas, four Super Bowls, zero wins.

Malcolm Gladwell (01:00:11):
Exactly. Uh, do I re-... You know, if I read your book one way, I would say, "Well, Malcolm, you should just rethink your political, your football a- allegiances. They make no sense. Like you got to... This is not working, this Buffalo thing." On the other hand, there's a certain pleasure in me sticking with them through thin and thing. Um, but so like do, do, do you see what I'm getting at? Like-

Adam Grant (01:00:32):
I do. Oh, there's, there's so much to work with here. Okay. Let me, let me, let me start by saying I love that you are rethinking. Your claim that you've made to me several times in this friendship that you always root for the favorite because the Buffalo Bills are definitely not the favorite.

Malcolm Gladwell (01:00:47):
Yes, that's true.

Adam Grant (01:00:48):
So wel-, welcome to the underdogs. It's about time you came around.

Malcolm Gladwell (01:00:51):
Thank you.

Adam Grant (01:00:52):
Uh, secondly, on Blackberry, I, I still want the keyboard back. I hate typing on a screen. I will never be as fast as I was. I'm not worried about Mike Lazaridis at all. What I'm worried about, and Malcolm, where is your empathy? Where is your compassion for all the people who lost jobs because RIM went under?

Malcolm Gladwell (01:01:12):
They didn't go under.

Adam Grant (01:01:14):
I mean, it basically did. How many people are working there now?

Malcolm Gladwell (01:01:17):
Well, no. Well, actually, this is a sidetrack, but uh, years ago, I wrote this piece about what happened when I think it was General Dynamics had a very large presence in Rochester. And they shut down their factory and left. This is in the '70s, and everyone in Rochester said, "Oh my god, this is the end of Rochester." And then this researcher, I forgot who it was, went back 10 years later and said, "What happened to all the people who got laid off from General Dynamics?" And he sent... He put it out that the resurgence in the tech industry in Rochester was a direct result of all the people who were freed from General Dynamics and went on to do cool things. The exact same thing happened in Waterloo, my hometown. All the people who left RIM are the foundation of this incredible tech resurgence in Southern Ontario.

Malcolm Gladwell (01:02:06):
So do you know Mike just educated a bunch of people about how to be entrepreneurs and how to think about... I think it's, it's win-win for Waterloo. Anyway, it's a side point.

Adam Grant (01:02:18):
No. I think, I think you're right. I think that's a great point, and uh, I'm feeling the joy of being wrong right now because I think you can see the impact on the ecosystem if you go to Canada. Uh, I think ah, ah, there's a part of me though that I guess I, I also, I also feel bad for you and me because we want that keyboard, right? I would love it if there was an iPhone competitor that, you know, that worked a little bit more like the Blackberry did. And so I, I feel like we're missing out on frankly some possible technological advances that didn't occur because they, they stopped producing products.

Adam Grant (01:02:51):
Uh, but that aside, I, I want to turn the tables on you just for a second here.

Malcolm Gladwell (01:02:55):
Wait, wait. I have one last thing I want to say.

Adam Grant (01:02:56):
Okay. Go for it.

Malcolm Gladwell (01:02:58):
Um, what this book is, is a kind of rebuttal to Don...

PART 3 OF 4 ENDS [01:03:04]

Malcolm Gladwell (01:03:00):
... is a kind of rebuttal to Don Quixote. Don Quixote is... everything that he stands for is something this book is refuting, right? This book is saying, "To persist in [inaudible 01:03:18] windmills, to persist in... " You know, the whole story of Don Quixote is Don Quixote continues to wage these battles that cannot be won. He will no rethink anything. And, you know, that book suggests there's a kind of nobility in that romantic attachment to a cause, even in the face of...

Malcolm Gladwell (01:03:37):
And you're saying, "Actually, no. Don Quixote's gonna be much better off if he rethinks his position about being this chivalrous knight, and starts scientifically examining his options," right? Like, this is... this book is the anti.... it's the anti-Don Quixote.

Adam Grant (01:03:55):
I never thought of it that way, but I like it. I'm not saying you should always give up on your passions or let go of the causes that are important to you, right? I want people to stand by their principles, their core values. But (laughs) I- I would be thrilled if more people were willing to say, "Look, I am committed to a set of principles, but I am willing to be flexible about the best plan to advance those principles." And I think that- that really requires us to think a little bit more like scientists, and a little bit less like preachers or prosecutors or politicians who are convinced, "I'm right. You're wrong. And I'm only going to try to cater to my own tribe."

Adam Grant (01:04:33):
And I- I think that- that forces us to- to scrutinize our plans, right, (laughs) and ask ourselves, "Okay. Is- Is this going to be something that allows me to pursue my values?"

Adam Grant (01:04:44):
Okay. I do... I do wanna... I do wanna turn the tables on you here. Uh, Malcolm, one- one of the things I love most about your work and also your mind is how eagerly you rethink your assumptions. And I know probably your most discussed idea, which you're tired of hearing about by now, is what you called the 10,000 hour rule.

Malcolm Gladwell (01:05:01):
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adam Grant (01:05:02):
Uh, I wondered how you've rethought that concept since Outliers came out.

Malcolm Gladwell (01:05:09):
Well, I mean, you know, there was... my initial thing was, I've rethought, "I should've written that chapter in a totally different way," because any time you suggest and idea and then you... the response to it appears to misunderstand your argument, then you wrote your argument wrong. It's your fault, not your audience's fault. So, clearly, I made much too... I didn't mean for 10,000 hours to be the dominant meme that emerged from Outliers, nor did I mean to suggest that it was the path to greatness.

Malcolm Gladwell (01:05:44):
My... I- I was interested in it only because I was interested in the notion that if excellence takes a long time, then excellence requires a lot of help. You need to... If you're gonna pursue something for 10,000 hours, you need a community of people helping you. Your- Your mom's gotta drive you to diving practice at 5:00 AM. [inaudible 01:06:04] takes a long time to become a good diver, right? Like... or hockey practice at 4:00 AM or whatever. That was why... But I didn't make that argument.

Malcolm Gladwell (01:06:12):
So, I have beaten myself up over the way I wrote that chapter. But then I've realized, the thing... the way that I have revised it is, the other thing I didn't think about was that that standard, let's supposed it's true, then it's- it's- it's hackable. So, the... As... I- I- I presented it as a kind of... something cast in stone as opposed to an observation about a particular way of learning. So, the next question is, well, is there a way to do is faster? And the answer is, yes, there is. You could be smarter about it.

Malcolm Gladwell (01:06:51):
And, you know, online chess allows people to become very good chess a lot quicker than playing in chess clubs, 'cause you can calibrate your opponent perfectly, and you can play many more games. So, there's- there's all kinds of... And I can imagine a curriculum for... we can go in... and- and I think it's already happening. I've seen data on this, in medicine now, by redesigning curriculum and redesigning medical technology. It's possible for surgeons to reach levels of high expertise much quicker. Learning curves have changed, the shape of them have changed.

Malcolm Gladwell (01:07:27):
And I- I spent actually no time in the book talking about what is the most exciting aspect of 10,000 hours, which is, "Okay. Can we get it down to five?" Right? That's what's interesting. And I was off on this other, um... So... Yeah. I have thou... I have thought a lot about it.

Adam Grant (01:07:45):
That's fascinating. I guess as a followup on that, I- I... I'm sure you've seen the Brooke Macnamara meta-analysis showing that deliberate practice effects don't look like a rule. They vary by person, but also by field. And if I remember the data correctly, uh, you can explain, what, 21% of the variance in music performance by how much practice people do, 18% for sports, but less than 1% for professions. And I found that surprising. I would've expected the opposite. I would've thought (laughs), "Okay. In sports, there's a certain level of raw physical talent that you need, and there might be limits to how much you can gain from practice."

Adam Grant (01:08:23):
Whereas, in any profession, you mentioned surgery, uh, I can study. I can learn. I can work on my skills in a way that's much less dependent on... you know, on my- my innate talent. What do you make of that, and what does it mean for thinking about how much practice we need in order to- to become experts or excellent at anything?

Malcolm Gladwell (01:08:41):
Well, it's funny. My- My answer to that question would... has changed since reading your book.
Adam Grant (01:08:47):
Uh-oh.

Malcolm Gladwell (01:08:49):
No. 'Cause now I always think... 'cause now I think, "Well, there's another dimension here, which is... " let's go back to our surgeon. So, are surgeons... Do surgeons have the kind of mindset that you're describing? If they do... if they are people who are willing to admit to their mistakes, to rethink the way they do things to... you know, to keep their mind and practice turning and churning over the course of their career, then the benefits to experience are very different than if they're... if they have a certain way of doing things and they never revisit them.

Malcolm Gladwell (01:09:24):
So, now I'm much more interested... I'm not interested in raw numbers about how much times as they spent and what are their outcomes. Now I'm interested, "Well, who are they? How do they make sense of this? Who's around them and working with them? What's the culture in their... in their surgical team?"

Malcolm Gladwell (01:09:42):
You were... There's a... There's a thing where you talk about, um, uh, motivational listening and how there are certain kinds of techniques to get... that- that really help people revisit and change their minds on- on ingrained practices, that if we're smarter about the way we convince people, we could do a much better job of- of doing that. Well, that made me think, "Well, a lot about the surgeon... " Let's stick with the surgeon. If he or she is doing something the wrong way, a lot depends on, who's the person trying to convince them to do it differently, and how good are they are their job? Now... Those are all the questions I care about now [inaudible 01:10:20]. I think the old question's kind of boring.

Adam Grant (01:10:24):
That's great. There's so much more I wanna talk about. But one of the things I'm enjoying about Clubhouse is it's a rethinking of social media. And it's not just me and you having a conversation. We've got a whole audience here. So, Kat, do you wanna bring some other voices?

Kat (01:10:38):
Yeah. I would love that. So, [Rahaf 01:10:40], [inaudible 01:10:41] to come to you. Go ahead, Rahaf.

Rahaf (01:10:44):
Yeah. Hey, guys. And so, I have a question that, um, a bunch of people have actually asked. Adam, I think the concept of, um, rethinking everything is- is hitting a point of discomfort for a lot of people. So, I'm gonna take the question, is there anything too sacred to rethink? What are the things that Adam or Malcolm refuses to rethink, and how do you determine what those are? What are the things that you would refuse to retouch or rethink?

Adam Grant (01:11:12):
I- I- I don't wanna make a case that people should rethink everything. First of all, (laughs) I think we need to have quality standards, right? And you shouldn't just roll the dice and say, "All right. I'm gonna pick a new belief tomorrow." Uh, what I want people to do is- is change their minds in the face of sharper logic or stronger evidence. And I think that means that... (laughs) You know, we always talk about how people are entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts, the- the Moynihan quote.

Adam Grant (01:11:35):
I think that when... that's true when you have opinions in your head. But if you're gonna voice them out loud, you have a responsibility to base your- your opinions on data or on logic, and then (laughs) to revise them if better data or better logic come along. And for- for me, that means you need not just a support network of people who encourage you and cheer lead for you, but also a challenge network of thoughtful critics, coming in good faith to poke holes in your thinking and help you maybe see some of your blind spots.

Adam Grant (01:12:06):
And what I'm trying to do is just encourage people to- to bring a little bit more of that into their lives. And, of course, you can have a- a core that you protect that you're not willing to rethink. One thing that I have no intention of rethinking is my passion for the scientific method. I can't think of anything you could do to convince me that randomized controlled experiments are not the best way to advance medicine, for example. And if you wanted to try to convince me, I would ask you to do a bunch of experiments showing that (laughs) experiments don't work. And so, you would be proving my point even as you try to invalidate it.

Adam Grant (01:12:37):
Uh, and that- that... I think I would say that, you know, there's a spectrum of how often people rethink their assumptions. And... Right? I cover some research on this in chapter three of Think Again on super forecasters, where people com- compete in this tournaments to predict the future. And the average forecaster, when they make a prediction about who's gonna win- win the World Cup, or who's gonna win the next presidential election, uh, will change their mind about twice. The super forecasters, they change their minds twice as often. They tend to update their predictions four times on a given question, rather than two.

Adam Grant (01:13:07):
And so, I just wanna move us a little bit more to the right of that curve, and say if we did a touch more rethinking than we currently do, we'd be better off. And rethinking doesn't mean you have to change your mind. It just means you're open to reconsidering and reflecting.

Kat (01:13:22):
Love that. Uh, Julie, what are you hearing, seeing?

Julie (01:13:27):
Yeah. So, um, can you share, Adam, the tactical steps that you take, uh, during your week to think... to rethink? You know, what- what are the actions you take? And, Malcolm, being inspired by the book, um, are there steps that you're taking?

Adam Grant (01:13:42):
One of the things I've- I've done differently after writing this book is, any time I've ever given any kind of performance, whether somebody ready an article of mine or I gave a speech or they were ready to give me feedback on a podcast episode, I've asked, "What's the one thing I should do differently?" And sometimes it's been like pulling teeth to get them to answer, and I've even had to criticize myself out loud to get them to respond to show that I really mean it and I can take it.

Adam Grant (01:14:06):
And I've changed my question now. What I like to ask people is, "What's something I should be rethinking?" And it's- it's an invitation to- to let me know if you see any assumptions I've made that you think are incomplete or incorrect. And that... I guess that's the social part of this. The- The more personal part of this is, for years I've been advising students to schedule a career check-up twice a year on their calendars. Just like you go to the doctor or the dentist when there's nothing wrong, we should also be doing the same things to reconsider our career plans and ask ourselves, "You know what? Is the job that I thought I wanted still what I'm looking for?" Uh, my hope is that I get to try on new careers and new identities.

Adam Grant (01:14:44):
Um, but in the meantime, I've just... I've started putting rethinking time in my calendar. I like to have an hour a week where I look over the- the arguments I've made (laughs), uh, the arguments I haven't listen to carefully enough, and ask myself what I should be questioning. And I think making it a habit has made it much more real.

Adam Grant (01:14:59):
Malcolm, what- what do you do to rethink?

Malcolm Gladwell (01:15:02):
Well, it's funny. I was, um... I realize it's built into the writing process for me, um, and that over the years, I've realized that there are enormous benefits to postponing... There's always a moment when you write something when you have to decide, "Okay. This is gonna be my... what I'm gonna say. This is my argument. This is my line." And I've realized there's huge benefits to postponing that moment as late as possible.

Malcolm Gladwell (01:15:32):
So, I will sometimes substantially revise not just the way I make an argument, but the argument itself. Uh, I mean, when I'm writing books, sometimes I do it when I'm... where, you know... I wrote... rewrote an entire chapter of my last book with, you know, days before the final deadline (laughs), which drove my editor crazy.

Malcolm Gladwell (01:15:53):
But, um, with my podcast, I do that a lot. Uh, I... You just, like... And you have to structure your editorial process so it permits that kind of, you know... So, when we have a meeting and when they say, "We just had a meeting for this season of Revisionist History," and I... you know, my producer says, "Well, what ideas do you have," and I say, "Well, I have this, this, this, this." But you have to be very, very careful not to say, "I'm gonna make the following argument." What you say is, "I'm investigating the following issue." And it... that seems like a minor semantic difference, but it's hugely important. What I'm saying is I have not made up my mind yet, and I would like the opportunity to change my mind many times between now and when I hand in this script. That's a discipline that... Reading your book sort of reinforces me the value of that discipline.

Adam Grant (01:16:45):
And that's you thinking like a scientist, not like a preacher or a prosecutor.

Malcolm Gladwell (01:16:49):
Yeah. It's funny, I, um... I- I... I'm not a complete... You know, many people are, um, quite pessimistic about this moment in our culture, uh, about, you know, the... our ability to get people to rethink their positions or to... and I'm actually not. I'm a... I'm an optimist on this.

Adam Grant (01:17:12):
There's this model called the persuasion knowledge model, which says that somebody discovers that you're trying to influence them, a change of meaning occurs, and what seemed like a, you know, reasonable, thoughtful discussion now becomes a manipulative tactic. And they put their guard up and it makes it much more difficult to have influence. And I think it was in Outliers. I want to convince you that success is much more driven by luck and opportunity than most of us are willing to admit.

Adam Grant (01:17:37):
And I thought it was such an interesting strategy because it went against what I thought I knew. And I thought the transparency, Malcolm, that you brought in just telling the reader what you wanted to (laughs) convince them of, uh, was- was so refreshing. And I- I decided to- to do a little twist on it when I was writing Think Again, and say, "You know what? I don't want you to agree with all my conclusions. I just wanna make you rethink some of yours, and then the rest is up to you."

Malcolm Gladwell (01:18:02):
You know, I'm always reminded of this little anecdote from Obama when he was in the White House. He didn't wanna have to spend any time thinking about what he had to wear, 'cause he felt his cognitive space was limited. You know, when I first heard that, I thought, "Oh, that's ridiculous." And then I thought about it, and now I think it's brilliant, because we spend a lot of time constantly rethinking stuff that's just dumb. Like, why do I sit in front of my closet for five minutes deciding what sweater to wear? That's a complete waste of time. I should just close my eyes and grab a sweater. They're all fine sweaters, right?

Malcolm Gladwell (01:18:32):
Um, but then there's stuff that's consequential. So, maybe this all just starts with just zeroing in on what things really matter. Now, I'll give you an example. I'm a- a big runner. And like many runners, I'm incredibly interested in this question of whether trans people, particularly boys who transition to girls, should be eligible to run in competition. And my initial position was to say, "No, they shouldn't. Women's sports should be a protected category." However, I realized that's not something... that's not an issue I should simply take my reflexive position. It's too important to the sport I care passionately about, and too important to the well-being and rights of an entire community. And it's been really hard to revisit this to kind of think, "Well, wait a minute. Maybe I'm wrong." You know, I- I feel I have an obligation to read every considered argument that comes out on any side of that issue, 'cause I need to keep my mind open.

Malcolm Gladwell (01:19:29):
You know, I don't feel the same way about the sneakers I wear when I run. I wear one kind of sneakers, and I'm not revisiting that. That's trivial. But this is really important, right? So, this process is something that's not easy. And it's not easy because I have very strong prejudices on it. And I have to fight myself to get over those prejudices and keep my mind open. That's why a lot of what you were writing about in the book resonated with me so much, that there are things where... there are... there are times and places where you have an obligation to be willing to revisit what you thought, and a moral obligation to keep your mind open.

Adam Grant (01:20:19):
Taken for Granted is part of the TED Audio Collective. The show is hosted by me, Adam Grant, and is produced by TED with Transmitter Media. Our team includes Colin Helms, Gretta Cohn, Dan O'Donnell, Jessica Glazer, JoAnn DeLuna, Grace Rubenstein, Michelle Quint, Banban Cheng, and Anna Phelan. This episode was produced by Constanza Gallardo.
Special thanks to Kat Cole for hosting Malcolm and me on Clubhouse. For their thoughtful contributions during the conversation, gratitude to Catherine Connors, Paul Davison, Mona Hamdy, Denise Hamilton, Rahaf Harfoush, Mir Harris, Harold Hughes, Steph Simon, Swan Sit, Shondra Washington, and Julie Wenah.

PART 4 OF 4 ENDS [01:21:11]