WorkLife with Adam Grant
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Trevor Noah: Got a call from my manager, and I was in the back of a taxi, and he said, "Hey, how would you like to host The Daily Show?"

Adam Grant: That's Trevor Noah.

TN: My mind was blown. And I still don't think I understood the gravity of the entire show. And I remember I got out of the taxi and my knees were weak, and I probably would have fainted if I was just walking. I'm glad I was sitting down when I got the news. And yeah, and that's when it happened.

AG: When Trevor got that call, his worklife changed. He'd spent a lot of his career working solo as a stand-up comedian in clubs and theaters, mostly in South Africa. But now he works with a full creative team in New York City. Four days a week, they make a show that millions of people watch, and I want to know how they pull that off, because usually, big groups are where creativity goes to die.

(Music)

I'm Adam Grant, and this is WorkLife, my podcast with TED. I'm an organizational psychologist. I study how to make work not suck. In this show, I'm inviting myself in to some truly unusual places where they've mastered something I wish everyone knew about work. Today, creativity under the gun, and how you can be more creative in whatever you do. Thanks to Warby Parker for sponsoring this episode.

(Music)

When you have a creative challenge, the natural starting point is to bring a group of people together to brainstorm. Workplaces have relied on brainstorming for years. There's just one small problem: it doesn't work. We actually have decades of evidence that brainstorming backfires. Groups produce fewer ideas and worse ideas than the same people working alone.

(Music)

So what is it about group brainstorming that stifles creativity? First, people silence themselves because they're afraid of looking stupid. Second, some people silence others by dominating the conversation. And third, everyone just supports the boss's favorite idea. But The Daily Show has overcome these problems. They've cracked the code of group creativity, and I'm going in to find out how.

(Music)

It's 9am on a Tuesday.

(Overlapping voices)

Walking in, it's clear that this show is a massive machine. On any given day, over a hundred staff and crew members are working on it. But I want to focus on one part of that machine: the writers' room. It's where a creative team of writers, producers, and on-camera talent come together. Being in a writers' room is sort of an organizational psychologist's dream, at least it's one of mine, and The Daily Show is giving me backstage access to see how they start the day with a blank page and end up with 22 minutes of great comedy.

(Overlapping voices)

The room is packed with about 30 people. Some of them are sitting on couches, lots of them are sitting on the floor, and some of them even have their dogs. They're starting to kick around ideas before Trevor arrives.

(Overlapping voices)

It's November, and the big news of the day is Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. There are a few weeks left before the special election to replace Jeff Sessions. We all know how that played out, but at the time, it was great material. They start off by playing clips from yesterday's news, and then they riff.

News Clip: ... people are saying Roy Moore was banned from the mall.

(Laughter)

Allison MacDonald, supervising producer: The fact that the mall has higher standards than the US Senate ...

News clip: Overnight, Moore denied the accusations.

(Clip continues) Roy Moore: I never did what she said I did. I don't even know the woman. I don't know anything about her. I don't even know where the restaurant is or was.

Max Brown, supervising producer: He's like, "I deny it. It's absolutely false. I have no idea what it is about." But with every accuser, it's like, "He was here every night." We have a picture of him on the wall that he signed.

Josh Johnson, writer: Sooner or later with accusers, he'll be like, "I'm not even from Alabama. Never been here before."

(Laughter)

Steve Bodow, executive producer: I am not Roy Moore.

AG: The room is starting to feel like a really crowded family dinner. Everyone is jumping into the conversation.

Zhubin Parang, head writer: I wonder if his favorite booth has his name carved into it, like, "Roy Moore's seat," yeah. "I never got pancakes and waffles there," and restaurant is like, "That is that's what we call the Roy Moore Special."

Jimmy Don, senior producer: His picture's on the wall for the pancake challenge.

AG: The first thing I noticed is that the room is full of creative bursts. Believe it or not, there's a name for that in the psychology of creativity: it's called burstiness.

(Music)

Burstiness is like the best moments in improv jazz. Someone plays a note, someone else jumps in with a harmony, and pretty soon, you have a collective sound that no one planned. Most groups never get to that point, but you know burstiness when you see it. At The Daily Show, the room just literally sounds like it's bursting with ideas. You can hear it in the Roy Moore joke.

ZP: I think ... Oh, here we go. What's up, man?

AG: Trevor Noah just walked in the room.

ZP: We're just watching and laughing at Roy Moore, going to the mall, hanging around until ...

TN: Getting banned from the mall?

TN: That's a pretty extreme detail that they left out.

ZP: While you're the DA.

TN: Even the mall cop is like, "Look, Mr. DA, I know."

MB: It's really hard to get banned by the mall. Like, if you are a bad teenager, you don't get banned.

Dan McCoy, writer: I like the way he was making excuses now about these bans. "No, I was stealing lipstick."

(Laughter)

AG: So right there, my ears perk up. The burstiness is back, even with Trevor in the room. Everyone's throwing out half-baked ideas to their boss. How comfortable are you just brainstorming on the fly in front of the most powerful person in your workplace? If you have a boss who is constantly judging you, that would be a nightmare. You'd be afraid of getting it wrong or looking dumb. But Trevor sets an inviting tone. There's no frenzy, no panic. He's guiding the group. Although the clock is ticking, he doesn't sound stressed.

TN: Let's just go down that list. Let's breeze through it.

AG: The meeting wraps up at 10:30. They have an outline for the show. Now it's time to divide and conquer. The writers only have about two hours before their first drafts are due.

ZP: So, I need a couple of writers to just a round of the Asia wrap and two writers who want to do the Don-Jr-is-an-idiot thing.

AG: They go off in pairs to write. I want to dig in further to find out how they create the ideal conditions for burstiness, so I tracked down the head writer, Zhubin Parang, and senior writer Daniel Radosh.

AG: Psychologists talk about this pattern they call burstiness, which is, how rapidly we're taking turns in conversation and interrupting each other. There were moments when somebody had a pretty good joke and then like four people built on it.

Daniel Radosh: The main thing is to get the jokes out of the material and that's where the burstiness comes from.

AG: I love how you adopted the language of burstiness like that's a normal thing people would say.

DR: We're improv-focused. Whatever you say, that's the new term.

AG: But let's be clear: not everyone was immediately on board. Here are two of the newer writers, Kat Radley and Colleen Werthmann.

Colleen Werthmann: Burstiness?

Kat Radley: You come up with that? AG: No, I'm just borrowing it.

I first learned about burstiness from a colleague.

Anita Williams Woolley: I'm Anita Williams Woolley. I'm an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Burstiness is when everybody is speaking and responding to each other in a short amount of time instead of having it drawn out over a long period of time.

AG: Anita sees burstiness in all kinds of groups, not just at work.

AWW: I have four older brothers and three kids who are all boys, and I joke how this explains my whole life because pretty much any dinnertime conversation, you can hear me say, "Wait a minute, let me finish." There's a lot of burstiness in the conversation and a lot of interrupting, which seems not to bother them at all but sometimes can drive me crazy.

AG: Interruptions aren't always rude. When you're in a crunch, you want everyone to pitch in fast. Anita studied software teams working in different places around the globe. She found that the most innovative and productive teams were bursty.

AWW: The more effective teams figured out when their team members were likely to be working and they would get online at a similar time and start exchanging messages, sending each other code, whereas other teams might have communicated just as much and engaged in just as much activity but kind of more dictated by their own personal schedule, and those teams were not as effective.

AG: Burstiness is a sign that you're not stuck in one of those dysfunctional brainstorming sessions. It's when a group reaches its creative peak because everyone is participating freely and contributing ideas.

AWW: I don't think that burstiness is unique to creative fields. However, I think probably creative fields do really benefit from burstiness. The people who are in the conversation are energized because when you speak, somebody's going to respond to you right away, you know they're listening and then you're listening to them, and so it's much easier to exchange ideas and maybe build ideas.

AG: But of course, burstiness looks different when your raw materials aren't bits of code but bits of comedy. In the writers' room, the burstiness doesn't just happen by accident. I asked Trevor Noah about it.

TN: So, when I'm in a writers' room, there are two things that are happening in my head. One, I'm looking at what we're going to be doing on the show that day, and two, I'm thinking about the room as a comedy room and how much laughter it is imbued with in that moment. And I know it's extremely superstitious and no one can ever prove it or not disprove it, but I believe that laughter is absorbed just like secondhand cigarette smoke into the very fabric of who we are as human beings.

AG: Watching you in the room this morning, I was intrigued by a few things. One, I expected a big change when you walked in, and there wasn't a lot that was different, which is a sign to me that you've made it incredibly psychologically safe.

AG: People are not afraid of you.

TN: Oh, in the room. Oh, that's funny.

AG: They're not freaked out that you walked in, and they're still pitching some pretty half-baked jokes.

That's called psychological safety. It's where you can take risks without feeling afraid. Without that sense of safety, creative bursts don't happen. People censor themselves.

TN: Well, I always believed that in any relationship where there is someone who is in charge, whether it's in a family, with a parent, or whether it's a teacher, whether it's a boss in a work environment, really what brings out the best in people in my opinion is a mutual respect. I trust that my writers are trying to help me make the best show, and they trust that I want to make the funniest show. It's taken a long time, but now, when I when I walk into a meeting, I'm walking into a continuing conversation.

AG: Building psychological safety takes time. It's something you create a little every day, and you can see it in small moments. There was one that caught my eye in the writers' room.

TN: I'm saying that joke you pitched, it was so good, like, even in the room.

ZP: That was great, that went well.

AG: Did you catch that? Trevor just said that his head writer Zhubin pitched a good joke.

ZP: I'm a funny guy. I write good jokes.

AG: The whole idea of burstiness is that when the group has momentum, you want it to keep going. So I wonder why Trevor interrupted it.

AG: Is that a conscious effort on your part to praise somebody in front of the group? Or does that happen spontaneously?

TN: I think that's a subconscious thing, but I've always believed in crediting people where credit is due. Especially when you're working in an environment where all of the praise is bound to be aimed towards myself. So if something's amazing on the show, Trevor gets the credit. If something's horrible on the show, Trevor gets the credit as well, or the blame. And, so I think it just moves people forward as human beings to know that we are acknowledged in whatever we're doing.

AG: When you're in a creative group that's bursting, it's easy to lose track of who said what and whether your input even matters. Here's Daniel.

DR: It's such a blender, like, all this material gets put in and you end up with this kind of comedy smoothie at the end that tastes delicious, but you might not be able to say, "Oh, that's my strawberry that was in there." We do kind of all understand that most jokes don't make it to air, especially not as they were originally conceived.

TN: It may not be the joke that you made that ends up going on TV, but it could be the joke that makes you feel a certain way that gets you to the joke that you put on TV, and so there was a line I thought of yesterday with the Roy Moore accusations, and Sean Hannity came out to defend him. And I said, "Sean Hannity has a season ticket to the wrong side of history." And it just made me giggle. Like, you know? And then I was just like, "Yeah, I'm going to say that." And so if your day is punctuated with joy, that joy will manifest itself in the final product that is the show.

AG: We'll be back with more from Trevor and The Daily Show after the break. This is going to be a different kind of ad. In the spirit of exploring creative ideas at work, we're going to take you inside Warby Parker, our sponsor.

(Music)

AG: Warby Parker's Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa have a lot in common.

Neil Blumenthal: You might not be able to tell us apart by our voices, ... but I'm Neil. Dave Gilboa: And I'm Dave.

AG: That didn't help at all. But I appreciate your trying.

(Laughter)

AG: Yep, they sound alike, they went to the same school, they have the same friends, and they also have the same job. Neil and Dave are the co-CEOs of Warby Parker, a billion-dollar company that's made buying eyeglasses cool again. I've always been fascinated with dynamic duos like Neil and Dave. Not only do they run the company together, but their collaborative leadership spreads throughout the culture. The ability to work across teams, from product to customer service to retail, has been key to Warby Parker's success. I sat down with them at headquarters in New York to talk about what it's like being the boss together.

(Music)

AG: The obvious metaphor for a co-CEO relationship is a married couple, but you both talk about it a little bit more in terms of parenting.

NB: You know, I think that's right. With parenting, you need a philosophy, right? You need a vision for what you want your children to grow up to be.

DG: It also makes the highs higher, being able to celebrate wins, and it makes the lows higher, in being able to blunt some of the frustrating parts that come up. NB: We also at times will play different roles, just like in a negotiation, there might be good cop, bad cop. Having a two-year-old and six-year-old, I know that. Rachel and I often do that as well.

AG: What's it like to lead a company with an old friend?

NB: You know, often I'm talking to other founders and CEOs, and they'll often speak to a loneliness of the role, and I've never felt that way, and one of the best things about having a partner is that you can just look at each other and laugh and crack up. Some of the situations are really difficult. Others are just absurd, and it just makes it, I think, a lot more enjoyable to have somebody alongside.

AG: What are the top three pieces of advice that you would give to somebody who is going to lead with a fellow leader?

NB: Build trust, communicate frequently, which often leads to trust, and work with somebody that you enjoy spending time with.

AG: How many hours do you think you guys have spent together in your lifetimes?

DG: Maybe 15,000 hours?

And what do they say, you need 10,000 hours to become an expert at something?

NB: We're experts in each other.

(Laughter)

NB: When do I get a ring?

(Laughter)

(Music)

AG: That was Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa, co-CEOs and cofounders of Warby Parker. Warby Parker has tons of interesting frames. If you're tired of wearing contact lenses, you might want to try their monocle. Looking for somewhere to start? Their free home try-on program lets you select five frames to test out for five days. If you don't like them, you can send them back. Try it today at warbyparker.com/TED.

(Music)

AG: If you've ever brainstormed, you know you're supposed to put criticism on hold. Let every thought fly. There's no such thing as a bad idea. But actually, that's a bad idea. It turns out that people are more creative in groups where criticism is welcomed. It raises the bar. Psychological safety doesn't mean that everything is all warm and fuzzy. You still need to have standards. At The Daily Show, the writers don't let each other get away with bad jokes.

DR: You don't shit on someone for making a bad joke. I mean, you do, but, you know ...

AG: What does that look like?

ZP: I think light ribbing.

Although usually the person who made the joke is the first to joke about how bad that joke went.

AG: You create safety by helping people feel comfortable laughing at themselves. And some new experiments have shown us how to do that. It all starts with a paperclip.

(Music)

Researchers asked, "How many new uses can you come up with for this paperclip"? People went off to brainstorm. Group one generated pretty typical ideas: a ring, a bracelet, and a necklace. But group two came up with totally unexpected uses, like a wound suture, artwork and a screwdriver. What made the difference? In the first group, everyone just launched into brainstorming, but in the second group, people were randomly assigned to share an embarrassing story before the brainstorm. And that simple act lowered their inhibitions. This is something they know from experience at The Daily Show.

ZP: I once misspoke about how, in order to keep flexible, we all need to keep our hips on a swivel. And I meant we've got to keep our heads on a swivel, but I said that two years ago, and in the subsequent two years, I've kept saying "hips on a swivel" because everybody says that's not right.

DR: I'm sorry, is "heads on a swivel" better?

ZP: "Heads on a swivel" is the actual term.

AG: Nothing should ever be on a swivel. DR: The Exorcist.

ZP: Regardless, every mistake you make in a comedy writers' room usually becomes a bit, and I think that only helps foster the creativity about the place. Like if we'll take the bad things you said and we'll make fun of them, that makes everyone a bit more lighthearted about speaking up.

AG: So I've been having fun talking to the writers about safety and burstiness, but I can't stop thinking about the clock. We're about three hours away from taping. Even though I'm not working on the show, I'm starting to feel a little stressed about the deadline. I asked Kat and Colleen if they are freaking out.

AG: Does it ever hit you how crazy that is that you started at 9am and you're going to have a show by the evening?

KR: It is crazy. Before I had this job, I used to think "How do they do it every day," but now you're like, "I get it." There's enough people who are very good at what they do that they make it happen. But it is. It's very fast-paced ...

CW: But this is also like a factory that's been here for a really long time.

AG: A factory?

CW: It's an extremely well-oiled machine.

KR: We also make shoes here.

(Laughter)

CW: We all have an incredibly precise contribution to make. You know how long you have to do it. You know what the quality standards are. Do you know what I'm saying?

AG: Yeah. No one seems stressed at all. People are just kind of chill, smiling. Is that how it always is? KR: I think it depends on the day, but for the most part I feel like everyone's usually pretty chill, because you never feel like, "Oh, this is coming down to me." You always know that there's going to be someone else to help you out.

CW: Yeah, feeling, like, loose, and a sense of possibility is always just a better place to operate from creatively, I think. And so even if you get that little twinkle of anxiety or whatever, inside of yourself, it just works better to go like, "You know what? I'm an ever-rushing river." It's corny, but it works for me, so I do that.

AG: The relaxed atmosphere frees them up for creative bursts. They also have the security of knowing that their days are meticulously planned and organized. In fact, there's structure everywhere, because what The Daily Show has done, consciously or not, is build task bubbles into each day.

(Music)

Task bubbles. So think of a time when you've walked into a meeting and tried to jump into the discussion, but you couldn't. It felt kind of like there was a force field that you just bounced off of. That's a task bubble, where people are totally absorbed in a common project. It keeps the group focused. That way, everyone can build on each other's ideas and bursts. Task bubbles give the writers and producers the space they need to hone and refine their ideas. Without these protected hours for collaboration, they'd all be working at different times, out of sync.

ZP: Once the writers are being sent off to write, they have, usually, two uninterrupted hours to think through what the structure of it's going to be with respect to the guidelines we've laid out, to add their jokes. The only time I interrupt is when there's been a significant change Trevor has called for or news is broken that requires an immediate edit.

AG: Too much structure can inhibit creativity, but so can too little structure. If you agree together on some rules for when and how to work, you can focus all your energy on doing the work. Here are Jen Flanz and Steve Bodow, the executive producers.

Jen Flanz: There is a myth that when you're working at a comedy show that's all fun all the time and we are bouncing a ping pong ball off the wall. It's fun, but it's run like a newsroom, a little bit.

Steve Bodow: Planning and structure: it sounds like it's rigid, but it's actually what gives you the freedom to find the creative discoveries that will make the thing sing.

AG: Because of course, creativity doesn't really start with a blank page. It begins with some raw material. In The Daily Show's case, it's the news clips they play in the morning meeting. Segment producers have already reviewed hours of footage and selected the most promising clips. Once everyone is agreed on the headlines, the writers know the first act will be seven to 12 minutes long, the second should be four to seven minutes, and they know exactly how much time they have to write. I drag Dan Amira and David Kibukka out of their task bubble. They're two writers working to turn the morning riffs into a polished segment.

David Kibukka: So sometimes you have it in your head that everybody's saying the greatest jokes all the time. And then when you realize that, no —

Dan Amira: Most of the jokes are just pure garbage.

DK: Then you're like, "Let me add to this garbage as well, and hopefully by taping time, we would have removed it and replaced it with something wonderful. Cause the first draft is not meant to be the last draft.

DA: That's why they call it the first draft.

DK: Yeah, that was a big part of the naming process.

AG: OK, structure and safety help with burstiness. But you also need the right mix of people in the room. And judging creative talent is hard. Take one of my favorite studies. Hollywood producers liked screenplays better when the writers presented themselves as hip artists or savvy marketers. Writers who wore funky glasses actually seemed to get an advantage. The Daily Show doesn't want to be swayed by those kinds of stereotypes. They want to pick the most creative writers, and executive producers Jen and Steve have a process for doing that.

JF: That's his baby.

SB: Yeah, that's something I started probably in 2008.

AG: The inspiration came from something powerful that happened in orchestras: blind auditions.

DR: We blindfold them

and bring them to a secure location.

AG: Maybe not like that.

(Music)

For years, American symphonies were dominated by men. In the 1970s, a typical ensemble had nine men for every woman. Supposedly women weren't talented enough, but by the 1990s, the gap closed to less than two to one. A huge reason that happened? The industry introduced blind auditions, where candidates played from behind a curtain. Once the evaluators couldn't see whether a performer was a man or a woman, their biases were neutralized. They focused solely on the quality of the music, and as they should've known all along, the women were just as excellent as the men. Well, The Daily Show has a similar approach.

SB: It was an effort to hopefully diversify in another important way in the show — not on camera but in the writers' room. We'd always get submissions from writers with their names on them, and oftentimes, they may be someone you knew, or a friend of a friend. And to take that ingredient out of it, we said, "What if we just number them?"

AG: The first time they tried blind submissions, they hired three new writers, and two were women. Soon, they hired more people of color, and writers from outside America, too. So by the time Trevor joined the show, he was working with a diverse cast and crew, and it was a priority for him to continue diversifying from every angle. But at first, he wasn't sure how to bring in his own background as a South African.

TN: I got so swept up in people saying I was an outsider that I forgot that most of us are outsiders. It just depends on where we're looking in or out from.

AG: Diverse backgrounds and perspectives help with creative bursts, but we don't always realize it. When everyone in a group is the same race, they do worse at creative problem-solving but they think they do better, because they're more comfortable. Diverse groups are more creative. It's not just because they have access to a wider range of ideas. They feel more uncomfortable, and that discomfort motivates them to do extra preparation and share new information.

TN: Trump as an African dictator will always be one of my favorites, because it was the first moment on the show where people thought that I might have a chance.

AG: That segment Trevor's talking about? It came out of his own experience.

TN: It was the first segment where I realized that my uniqueness could be used as a skill, as opposed to a hindrance. My president also didn't release his tax returns, hasn't released them for the time he was president. You know, my president also has friendships with the Russians that are shady at best. In creating the show, I've now realized that I can create within the show a feeling of outsiderness, which is generally a curiosity, and that is a willingness to learn of a world that you do not know much about, and so I try and take the show into that sphere.

(Ambient rap music)

AG: At this point in the day, the writers and producers have come back together for rehearsal. Trevor's in his suit, the lights are up. It looks just like I've seen it on TV. And now, it's time to try out all the jokes. Trevor's delivering them for the first time, weaving in his own impressions of Roy Moore.

TN: Let's kick off the show with something light. Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore and his escalating sex scandal. I'm especially curious what pick-up lines Roy Moore used. Are you tired? Because you have been running away from me all day.

(Laughter)

That's a cute dress. It will look even better outside of this Tabloids Kids. Talbots Kids.

GK: Gap Kids. TN: Gap Kids? Do you have a coupon? Because my pants are 50 percent off.

(Laughter)

TN: Yesterday, a new accuser, Beverly Young Nelson, came forward to say he sexually assaulted her when she was a 16-year-old working part-time at a local restaurant, but he still says he is innocent. "I don't know that restaurant, or any other restaurant for that matter." Actually, I never ingested food. I don't even have a mouth.

(Mimics sound of speaking with one's mouth closed)

(Laughter)

I feel like Moore would still deny everything even if there was a picture of him at the restaurant for winning a pancake-eating contest.

AG: At the end of every rehearsal, the writers and producers swarm the set.

DK: Sometimes you'll have a script where you're like, "This script is magic. We don't even need to — why are we rehearsing? Guys! Why are we rehearsing?" And then you go to rehearsal, and you're like, "Does anyone have any other ideas?"

AG: And right now, it looks like the creative team has some feedback.

ZP: I think we need to rewrite some of these jokes. Like the last one, "I feel like Moore, even if there's a picture of him at the restaurant winning a pancake contest," it's not jokey.

SB: It needs a coat of rewrite on it, but it's structurally fine.

ZP: A total rewrite? TN: A coat of rewrites.

SB: We need to throw it out and do something different.

AG: A rewrite? Seriously? I thought it was pretty funny, but the writers and producers weren't satisfied. They only have about an hour to work on their final material, and I'm left to wonder what's going on behind closed doors.

CW: There's a satanic ritual ... No.

KR: There's a rewrite room, which is pretty much just, like, Trevor, head writer, producers.

CW: It's a very small room. There's like eight or nine people kind of crammed in there.

KR: Pants are optional. CW: Healthy snacks.

KR: Going through the whole script top to bottom and just making sure everything's as punchy and strong as it can be.

AG: Now it's out of their hands, and the show goes live. Here's Trevor on air, skewering Roy Moore.

TN: This guy, he's a legend. He's a legend. It's almost like his past self is snitching on his future self.

(Laughter)

Because everything he denies, he already pre-confessed. Like, now I want him to be like, "I definitely never sat down at that restaurant." "Really? This booth has your name carved into it." "Well, I never ate anything there." "Your picture's on the wall, for the pancake-eating contest." Look, I don't know how this whole thing is going to end up, but as of now, both the Senate and House Republican leadership have called on Roy Moore to step down. And it looks like he might be expelled from the Senate, if he wins the election. Now I'm not saying he's not a good fit for the Senate, but 40 years ago, he wrote in a yearbook, "I'm not good for the Senate."

(Laughter)

We'll be right back.

(Applause)

AG: Trevor and his creative team do this day in and day out. After watching them make a whole show, it's clear that these people know each other remarkably well. They know who will have a funny take on each topic, which writers to pair together, which producers have the best expertise on each segment, and who can straighten out a messy script. Here's Steve.

SB: Because we have so many shows to do, 160 a year, there is not a hell of a lot of time for taking retreats or doing dry runs of things. The way you do new process, or the way that you get people to work together, is by making a show and making another show and then making another show.

AG: Groups aren't always bad for creativity. Maybe we've just studied them the wrong way.

(Music)

We've rarely tracked groups that have created safety and structure over years of working together. So no matter how good you get at finding the right people, if you want a group to have creative bursts, what matters most is the time you spend getting to know each other. It's a twist on the idea that 10,000 hours of practice helps you become an expert. Normally, we think that means practicing a skill solo, but if group creativity is your goal, maybe you should be practicing together. I think we should take groups more seriously, as an essential unit of creativity. Instead of looking for creative individuals, what if we hired intact creative groups? And instead of promoting individual superstars, what if we promoted entire teams? Because the best creative groups aren't just the sum of their parts, they're the sum of their shared experience.

(Music)

WorkLife is hosted by me, Adam Grant. The show is produced by TED with Transmitter Media and Pineapple Street Media. Our team includes Colin Helms, Gretta Cohen, Dan O'Donnell, Angela Cheng and Janet Lee. This episode was produced by Gabrielle Lewis. Our show is mixed by David Herman with help from Dan Dzula. Original music by Hahnsdale Hsu. Special thanks to our sponsors, Warby Parker, Accenture, Bonobos and JPMorgan Chase.

Next time on WorkLife, we're going to Indiana to meet the Butler Bulldogs, a basketball team with a weird way of building a culture and beating the odds.

Man: I had those five guys in my office, and, you know, my biggest, most daunting task was, how do you choose captain? I brought them all in, and I just said, "Hey, we've got 12 guys on the team, but all five of you are captains. So 40 percent of our team were captains.

You know, the one thing, Adam, I didn't want do? I didn't want to disempower one of them.

AG: That's next time on WorkLife. Thanks for listening, and if you like what you hear, we would all really appreciate it if you could rate and review the show. It helps other people find us.

See you next week.

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