Katie Couric: You recently launched the second season of your podcast, “WorkLife.” What was the driving question you set out to answer this time around?
Adam Grant: I wanted to figure out how we could make work more collaborative and creative. So I infiltrated offices that enforce a no-a*hole rule, hung out with Olympic skiers and runners who help their fiercest rivals, and went inside the minds of the most creative people at Pixar.
Katie: A big focus is on “how to make work not suck.” I’m sure a lot of folks would be interested to know if you figured that out–what’s the verdict?
Adam: Not quite. But I did figure out how to make it suck a little less.
Katie: I think it’s interesting that you’ve found that frustration can be a good source of creative fuel at work. What’s the connection?
Adam: When you’re frustrated, you’re dissatisfied with the status quo. That energizes you to start looking for better options—as long as you feel committed and supported. In the episode on the creative power of misfits, I got to explore how animators and military officers harness frustration as motivation to innovate. So don’t ignore the curmudgeons on your team; they can actually generate some of your best ideas.
Katie: And we shouldn’t ignore the introverts either, right? Why do you say we need more introverted leaders at the helm?
Adam: I’ve found in my research that introverts are actually more effective leaders of proactive teams. Extraverted leaders are often threatened by ideas and suggestions from below; they feel like their followers are stealing the spotlight. Introverted leaders are more likely to listen—which means they get better ideas and they help their teams feel valued and motivated. For more on that, see the episode on your hidden personality.
Katie: It seems counterintuitive, but you’ve found that, more often than not, people are drawn to difficult goals. Why would that be?
Adam: We like to be challenged. There’s classic research on shuffleboard, for example, showing that most people don’t choose to shoot from the closest distance, where they’re basically guaranteed to succeed. They’d rather stretch their skills and go for odds below 50-50.
Katie: I read a really interesting piece recently in the Atlantic that said we expect too much out of our work life and that that’s making us unhappy. Do you agree?
Adam: Yes. I talked with the author, Derek Thompson, about that on NPR recently, and dove into it in further depth in a recent episode on the perils of following your career passion. If you’re looking for job nirvana, there’s going to be a bigger gap between what you wanted and what you got. As Tim Urban puts it, “happiness is reality minus expectations.”
Katie: You’re so good at motivating everyone else. How do you need to be motivated? What’s an example of when you’ve had to remember to take your own advice?
Adam: In high school and college I was a springboard diver. Early on I was terrified of trying new dives—getting lost in the air and smacking on the water. One practice, I stood shaking on the board for 45 minutes, unable to take a step. My coach, Eric Best, asked me, “Do you want to do this dive?” I nodded. He asked, “Well, if you’re going to do it eventually, what are you waiting for? Why don’t you just get it over with?” It was the kick I needed—and it’s a technique I’ve used many times since. If I know I’m going to do a task eventually, I might as well start it immediately.