Heartwarming Nuggets From My Interview With Adam Grant

How being a magician gave him an edge and more.

What is common between the covers of three famous business books — Zero to One, Made to Stick and the recently released Option B?

All these books have two authors.

Zero to One — Peter Thiel authored it with his student, Blake Masters. Two brothers, Chip and Dan Heath, co-wrote Made to Stick.

What is unusual about Option B — it is the coming together of two unrelated,of two unrelated, New York Times Best Selling authors in their own right. I had the chance to interview one of them — Adam Grant, a popular Professor at Wharton.

I was more interested in him as a person and his interactions with others from co-author Sheryl Sandberg to his own family. My questions were less about the book. He was game. I gathered some heartwarming nuggets.

1. Karthik Rajan: When did you first meet Sheryl Sandberg? What was the draw of your friendship through the years?

Adam Grant: Sheryl and I met at a conference in 2013. We were introduced by her husband Dave, who had read my first book, Give and Take. He was an amazingly generous person, and he gave me one of the greatest gifts of my life: inviting me over for dinner at their house. Afterward, Sheryl started asking me questions about gender differences in my research, and I spent the flight back east reanalyzing a decade of my own data. What I found was deeply disturbing: men got rewarded for helping and speaking up, while women were more likely to be taken for granted and punished for the same behaviors. I sent the results to Sheryl, and she suggested we write about them together. That was the beginning of a collaboration and a friendship.

My internal thoughts: Adam may attribute one of his greatest gift to the late Dave. I found it heart warming that he publicly acknowledged his gratitude. Having said that, this gift was possible — thanks to his first book. There are lots of first time writers who are professors. What is it about Adam that gave him an edge? I wondered. That was the genesis of my next question.

2. Karthik Rajan: At the wag end of your Wharton profile has the word Magician. How has a decade of being a professional magician influenced your three books?

Adam Grant: Being a magician taught me how powerful the element of surprise can be. In each book, I’ve tried to work that in — an unexpected twist in a story that reveals an insight, a counter intuitive study that turns your beliefs upside-down.

3. Karthik Rajan: Sheryl’s style is pouring her heart out, you are a rational academic with a penchant for contrarian thought. What was the most interesting incident while collaborating?

Adam Grant: Actually, Sheryl loves data as much as I do; she would make a great social scientist and it’s one of the reasons we bonded. One of the highlights of writing together was learning from her insights. After I told her about post-traumatic growth — people often emerge from tragedy feeling greater strength, deeper gratitude, and greater meaning in their lives — she coined a new term. Pre-traumatic growth. Her idea was to see if we can help people grow without the trauma: to find strength and gratitude and meaning without having to endure tragedy.

4. Karthik Rajan: When your young children grow older, what is the one thing you would be glad if they took away after they read this book?

Adam Grant: I want my children to know that we often become resilient for others. When people are depending on us, we end up finding strength we didn’t know we had.

My thoughts: Resilience is the strength within us. We are unaware of it — until the moment of reckoning. That I have heard before. The trigger is adversity. That I fathomed. The source of power for resilience is the people who depend on us. That dot connected explicitly through Adam’s answer.

5. Karthik Rajan: You wanted to name your daughters after superman characters? I heard you were unsuccessful in convincing your wife, Allison. Can you share with us your favorite characters?

Adam Grant: I almost succeeded with Kara, but no luck. Strangely, Kal-El and Jor-El were non-starters.

Before and after the interview: Connecting the Dots

This is what I knew about him before the interview: Adam Grant brings arcane research confined to academic journals to the rest of us. Dan Pink, author of To Sell is Human, may be his best peer to match his virtuoso. A lot I knew about Adam was through his first book that influenced my first blog.

What I learned through this interaction, his pedigrees notwithstanding, he is human like the rest of us.

He may have steadily climbed the success ladder on a professional front. He may be persuasive with his books. His wife keeps him levelheaded in knowing where to draw the line especially with kid’s names. He wants the books he writes to matter to his kids and the world at large. The geek in him wants to contribute and the magician in him wants to shine through.

The giver in him wants to be grateful to the ones who gave him generously.

As a result, I came to know about one of the greatest gifts of his life — a seat at the table at Sheryl Sandberg’s home.

Recently, he gave me a seat at the table to share his thoughts and stimulate mine.

And you gave me your time to read about Adam — the person, as seen through my prism. Thank you for that.

Gratefully Yours,

Karthik Rajan.

You are welcome to sign up for my “connect the dots” short story-letter at this link.

Adam Grant Photo credit: nrkbeta (CC BY 2.0)

P.S. Option B — his gem of collaboration with Sheryl Sandberg and an everlasting tribute to Dave is out in a bookstore near you and on Amazon .

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