Think Again: JJ Abrams Takes Adam’s Job
JJ: Hey, WorkLifers. This is JJ Abrams. We’re trying something new on the podcast today. I am going to be conducting an interview on the show and my guest is Adam Grant. We’re going to be talking about his new book. Think Again, Adam, how’s it going?
ADAM: Oh, JJ. It’s, it’s great to hear your voice, but this is my show.
JJ: I don’t know if it is.
ADAM: I can’t just let you take my job and ask all the questions. I’m insisting on asking you some questions.
// Can you promise me that I can ask one Star Wars question.
JJ: Yes, you can ask any, anything you want, you can ask.
Jumping in here… as host. Of my show. In the off chance you don’t know who JJ Abrams is… you absolutely know his work. He’s directed, produced, and written some of the most beloved films and shows of the last thirty years. If you love Lost, Alias, Felicity… the more recent incarnations of Star Wars or Star Trek… you have JJ to thank. As a bonus episode while we’re hard at work on Season 4, JJ kindly agreed to turn the microphone around and host me for a chat about my new book, THINK AGAIN: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know.
It’s a book about the science of rethinking our opinions, opening other people’s minds, and creating cultures of learning. It officially launches February 2, but I wanted to give you a sneak preview, so I sent JJ an early copy, and told him he was in charge of our interview.
Thanks to Viking Penguin, the publisher of THINK AGAIN, for supporting this episode.
JJ: / I have read, I have read this book and / I [00:00:30] just truly, uh, think again, your new book available now is so, compelling and I just, uh, I’m thrilled to get to talk to you about it.
/ ADAM: I feel like you’re my book fairy godfather, if that’s such a thing.
JJ: This is my dream. Thank you.
// I’ve got it say that it is, um, I had so many moments of kind of gasping when I read, Think Again, because
/ you provided [00:01:00] the kind of optimism that there is a way to find common ground. To find to re-embrace nuance. / to re-examine how we, you know, we go through the world. Um, what motivated you to write the book?
ADAM: Well./ There’s a part of me that that thinks I was probably motivated to write this book by, uh, one of my best friends from growing up, Kan, who I remember this was in seventh grade. He were in the middle of an argument, I [00:01:30] think, during a commercial on Seinfeld. And he, he hung up on me and I called him back and he said, shut up Adam.
I won’t talk to you until you admit you’re wrong. And that was sort of, uh, it really, it was a moment that stuck with me. I didn’t have the language for it at the time, but I spent a lot of time afterward thinking, why is it so important to me to be right? And you know, what, why do I have such a hard time admitting what I’m not?
And that, you know, I think that was, that was sort of a [00:02:00] defining moment. And then, you know, much later. I feel like my job as an organizational psychologist is, is to really think again about how we work, how we lead, how we live and to motivate other people to do that too. And my most frustrating experiences as an author, as a speaker, as a researcher, as a teacher, as a consultant are always when people are not willing to rethink assumptions that I think they ought to be questioning.
And so, you know, just over the past few years, the number of conversations I’ve had with, with [00:02:30] founders and CEOs where I, you know, I give them the best evidence that I have available and they say, well, that’s, that’s not how we do things around here. Or that’s not the way I’ve always done things. And I just, I just want to come back to them and say, you know: blockbuster, Blackberry, Kodak, Sears.
You know what? You should definitely not rethink anything in your vision strategy or business model. And so I guess, JJ, when, you know, when I have both personal and professional experiences that drive me insane on the same [00:03:00] topic, I feel like there might be a problem worth tackling or a question worth writing about.
JJ: Hm. Oh, that’s a great answer. In, in reading the book, it made me wonder if / that people’s, not bandwidth, but / their comfort level is so low that our, are people / finding comfort in belief systems. And that’s the thing that they can rely on because there’s so little to rely on. [00:04:00] And, and so re-thinking is a threat to one of the few comforts left.
ADAM: That’s such an interesting question. I don’t know is my first thought. My second thought is it reminds me of some, some research that I, I loved by sociologists that started in the seventies, they did these studies where they were interested in the effects of being micromanaged at work.
On not just how we thought about our jobs, but [00:04:30] how we behaved in the rest of our lives. And they found that if you had a really controlling boss, that you actually became more authoritarian as a parent with your [00:10:00] children, which was just kind of a stunning spillover for me to, you know, to think that the way you get treated at work might, uh, affect the way that you raise your children, who just never would have occurred to me. And I think that body of research and a whole bunch of other studies that followed kind of, they made me start to think about this basic truth that when we lack control in one domain of our lives, we become motivated to seek it and try to regain it in other parts of our lives. And I think, [00:10:30] you know, especially in the wake of this pandemic and a global recession, we’re, we’re facing a lot of threats to control right now.
And I wonder if part of what people are doing is they’re grasping at the things they do have control over. And one of the things we all have control over is what we believe. And so, you know, [00:05:30] holding fast to the things that I think are true. They make that sort of makes the world feel more predictable, less uncertain.
Uh, it also gives me a sense of belonging with whoever my tribe is. Right. It validates my worldview. And I’ve even wondered if, you know, if that’s part of why the, the George Floyd protests, you know, really rose up when they did. I feel like / before the pandemic people felt like, you know what, there’s nothing that I personally can do to fight systemic racism. Whereas, you know, juxtaposed against, uh, you know, a global disease like COVID, which I really can’t fight. Well, you know what I [00:06:30] could, I could show up in protest.
And so I guess there’s, there’s something about holding fast to your beliefs that helps to render an uncontrollable world more controllable. But also there’s something about being in an extremely uncontrollable world that can lead you to think again about where you do have some control– areas where you can make a difference. And so I wonder if it cuts both ways.
JJ: Hmm, that’s interesting. [00:07:00] I wanted to ask you about, uh, the value of humility, because it seems like humility is also, uh, at the center of, uh, what allows for someone to, pursue a truth or information or a point of view that might not be theirs. / But I think so many of us, uh, Take a more defensive posture and are more closed off and, and declarative about things that we think we know. And I just wanted to ask you kind of what role you feel humility, plays and why it might not be such a, um, given that the, the, the actual value of it is the [00:08:00] truth and is enlightenment and is wisdom and why that doesn’t seem so appealing in the moment in the heat of it.
ADAM: Yeah. Interesting. So,if pride is what fuels overconfidence, I think humility is what gives us the freedom and the flexibility to rethink the opinions and assumptions we should be questioning. And I think that part of the problem is that we live in a culture where people are rewarded for being the smartest person in the room. And they learn to wield their knowledge and [00:08:30] expertise like a weapon as opposed to treating it as a resource to share.
And so, you know, I think in most workplaces, in many schools and frankly in too many families and communities too, um, you know, the currency of status is knowing more than everybody else. And so knowing that, you know, admitting what you don’t know, questioning yourself, showing you know, any hint of uncertainty is like admitting weakness and setting yourself up for defeat and battle.
And obviously I think that’s a [00:09:00] problem and. I think that maybe the first way to get people past that fear is we need people in position to the power to model it. Right. We know that if you’ve been validated by your power or your status or your authority, that people are much more comfortable letting you say you don’t know. There’s evidence, for example, that when experts say I’m not sure, or I don’t know, they actually become more persuasive. Uh, in part because we respect their humility and in part, because we’re surprised and then we actually pay more attention to the [00:09:30] substance of their argument. Which you know, is likely to be persuasive if they are knowledgeable.
Uh, so I, I guess what I want to do is I want to let people know that that humility is, is a potential source of strength, not just a sign of weakness. And I don’t, I don’t entirely know how to get people there. And JJ, I want to turn this around on you because.
I feel like this is one of the themes that, that really cuts through a lot of your work is EV every time I watch a show or a movie that was directed or produced by you / I know it’s going to lead me to question an assumption and it might be an assumption I’ve held for a long time.
And I’m curious about. Is, is this something you do intentionally and how do you get your, your audiences to confront that kind of humility?
JJ: Well, thanks for saying so I feel like, the, the way into a story for me is, [00:10:30] is usually
/ finding a character who is vulnerable, who is in a place where they’re, they’re out of their depth and their, desperate for something.
And. I think that desperation is like the greatest motivator. Um, and it also, it, it, it forces you as a storyteller to know what a character is desperate for. And, and, and therefore what you are either afraid of, or, or hopeful for. And ideally both.
ADAM: / The, the idea of desperation as a [00:11:00] motivator. Uh, I think that’s incredibly powerful and it’s something that, that not only strikes me as relevant to, you know, to thinking about characters in a story, but also to understanding the people that I work with. Um, and the people that I love. And I’m wondering is, is, is, is that a lens that you apply? And I guess if you would turn it inward a little bit, uh, when, when you’ve achieved the level of success that you have, how do you stay desperate to rethink some of the stories that you tell.
[00:11:30] JJ: Well, all I have to do is go on Twitter. / I feel like, you know, I I’m always desperate to do something to, to tell a story that, um, that moves people. And sometimes, I’m more successful than others. And, you know, I never go into anything, uh, with a kind of, template for what it should or shouldn’t be. I feel like I’ve learned, a ton [00:12:00] of, of, of lessons along the way.
/ And by the way, I always feel like we’re, we’re carrying, you know, whatever a thousand lessons with us that we all need to re you know, remember at all times, but we can only really carry 900 of them. And we’re constantly dropping lessons and picking up the ones that we’ve dropped.
And by picking those up, we’ve dropped some other ones and we keep re re-learning. The same thing. So I think, you know, rethinking is really important and relearning is a weird sisyphean in inevitability. I don’t think we can avoid. Um, but [00:12:30] I, I feel like, you know, the, the, the drive to do what I do, like I’m guessing the drive for you to do what you do, you do it because you feel compelled to share a point of view, an idea, a feeling, um, an insight, a question, something you might not even understand the answer to. Uh, and you just feel compelled to do it. And, um, I think I start everything, uh, desperately, and I think they probably all end that way too.
ADAM: I love that.
[00:13:00] JJ: I wanted to ask you, because your, your book is all about rethinking. I was just curious. Do you feel like there is a fundamental barrier to rethinking? Uh, and if so, what it is.
ADAM: Yeah, I think so. So the, I feel like one of the things that I’ve rethought twice now, as I’ve been writing books is, I wrote my first book Give and Take with the whole framework to organize the world in terms of [00:13:30] givers, takers, and matchers. And then I didn’t want to be constrained by a framework like that when I wrote Originals and I felt like I over-corrected.
And there wasn’t enough connective tissue between the different chapters. I felt like I had a lot of interesting trees, but the forest was not clear enough. And so I decided when I was writing Think Again, that I was going to be open to finding an overarching framework, but I was not going to be attached to one.
And that, that felt like the sweet spot. And about halfway through the writing, it hit me and I had to rewrite the book from scratch. Okay. Uh, the framework was my colleague, Phil [00:14:00] Tetlock’s. where he observed that. whatever your job or career is that you spend a disproportionate amount of your time thinking like certain professions.
he said, look, you know, there are moments when we think like preachers, prosecutors, and politicians. And I think that that all three of these mindsets can stand in the way of three thin–, of rethinking, because when you’re preaching, you’re already convinced that you found the truth.
And so you don’t need to question any of your assumptions. When you’re prosecuting, you are trying to win your case. [00:14:30] That means the. Other side is wrong. And so you’ve got to get them to do all the rethinking, but you get to stand still. And when you’re thinking more like a politician, you’re basically trying to cater to your audience and campaign for their approval or get their likes or their votes.
And so you may be doing a little bit of flexing in the way that you present. But you’re not rethinking your underlying beliefs, right? You’re just, you’re just trying to appease your constituents. And I think we spend way too much time thinking in these modes. I [00:15:00] know, you know, as somebody who has been called a logic bully once or twice, maybe seven times at this point by my account, uh, I spend too much time in prosecutor mode.
And when I think that somebody is selling snake oil or trying to indoctrinate their followers into some kind of idea cult, I feel like it’s my job to debunk those myths and bring the better evidence to the table. And the problem is then that I get too close minded. And so I’m trying to get out of prosecutor mode and, and spend more [00:15:30] time thinking like a scientist, which is something I think we could all learn to do better.
JJ: It’s funny. In the, in the book you say out, I think the first time you were called a logic bully, it actually was something that you liked that at first, it appealed to you.
ADAM: I was proud. I thought, yeah, that’s my job as a social scientist, I want to decimate your bad arguments with rigorous evidence and air-tight logic and I’m good. And then I didn’t like the bully part so much as I thought about it more.
JJ: given that, what are some of your favorite [00:16:00] practices for questioning your own assumptions and for rethinking yourself?
ADAM: I think the, the first one for me is just the basic idea of thinking like a scientist. To say that, you know, what, what scientists do is instead of forming beliefs, they actually form hypothesis. And so instead of having an opinion, that set in stone, that means, okay, this is a hunch. How would I go and test it? And, you know, I don’t think that we have to always operate like we’re in a [00:16:30] lab, right. With a bunch of test tubes. But I do think that we should all be running experiments in our lives. So during the pandemic, for example, I have, instead of assuming there’s a routine that’s going to work for me, I’ve run experiments to say, okay, what if I shift my creative brainstorming from the morning to the night?
What does that do, you know, to, to the number of original ideas that I generate? Uh, what if I turned my camera off, right, during a zoom meeting? Do I actually have a, you know, a more, a more reflective, more thoughtful discussion, [00:17:00] um, and all of those, you know, those, those little changes and adjustments that we make, um, we could think about them as experiments, and then we can say, okay, well, you know, what, what information, what data do I need in order to find out if that was a successful or failed experiment? And I, I think that’s a huge step.
And I guess the other thing I would, I would just put on the table is when I was writing thing again, I made a list of all the things that I know I’m completely ignorant about. And my goal was, was actually not to reduce the list. It [00:17:30] was to expand the list, uh, because I feel like the more I know about what, I don’t know, the more curious I am and the more I’m going to learn from people who are actually are knowledgeable in those areas.
So, you know, my, my list, I think it started out, I immediately said I know nothing about music. I don’t understand financial markets. I’m clueless about chemistry. Uh, and you know, the list just kept growing from there. And I’ve actually been just keeping that list. I have a file on my desktop and my goal is to add something new to it every week. And if I stay clear about what I don’t know, [00:18:00] then I hope I’m going to stay in a more humble, more curious mindset.
JJ: That’s great. W when I was reading, Think Again, it was occurring to me, you know? You te you tell such great stories, including like the story of the Blackberry company and, and, uh, you know, Mike’s inability to rethink the way perhaps he could have and what might’ve been. Um, And I too was a huge fan of that keyboard.
Um, the question I had is / do you find partnerships where there’s a thinker and then a rethinking, or is it always, or typically whether it’s one or two or more people that are [00:19:00] able to rethink and think?
ADAM: Oh, that’s such a cool question. Uh, I think my ideal partnership is one where. Uh, they’re, they’re clear norms that make sure rethinking happens. The question of where it comes from is something that I don’t have good data on, which really mildly annoys me right now. And I need to go gather some, so stay tuned. But I mean, I can think of examples of both, right.
/ So [00:19:30] of one of the exams suppose that that I’ve spent probably too much time thinking about now is the, you know, the Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David example from Seinfeld. And one of the most interesting things that I learned from studying that collaboration was that they were both ruthless rethinkers. Um, but they applied it to their own work, probably even more so than they did to each other’s work. And so one would not even bring a script or a joke to [00:20:00] the other until he had thought it was, you know, really good.
And I can see how those kinds of norms would be really effective in partnerships. I’ve also seen examples though, where, you know, one person is basically the kind of a creative dreamer and the other person is the really critical evaluator. Uh, and so, you know, the first person does the thinking, the second does the rethinking, and then it ends up being kind of this beautiful symphony. Uh, I imagine JJ, you’ve seen a lot of this in, in the world of Hollywood. [00:20:30] Is there, is there one or the other that you think is more common and more effective and, uh, are there, are there people who do more of the thinking versus rethinking in your collaborations?
JJ: Well, obviously I think, you know, everyone is different and I know I’ve worked with people who, uh, Who go to a place and not that they’re stubborn about where they go, but they arrive at a, an answer very, very quickly and that sort of their thing.
and, and that they’re perhaps a bit reluctant to be as flexible or [00:21:00] rethink things. Then, then you know, I’ve worked with people like, for example, with Matt Reeves, with whom I did, Felicity. and we did the Cloverfield movie together and he’s someone who, you know, and I’ve known him since we were kids.
and he’s always rethinking and I find that I’m maybe more, you know, someone who would want to try something and put it out there and, and, and sort of commit to it for now and sort of see where it goes. And Matt to his great credit and it’s one of the reasons I love working with [00:21:30] him is he is someone who really wants to stop and examine and consider it and reconsider it and look at it from all sides and see if there’s a better way. And can it go deeper and can it be, you know, going to be more emotional. and I think that, that, you know, part of that is probably, you know, less about thinking of rethinking and more about my being more impatient, and, uh, Well, when we worked together, we had our offices right next to each other.
And in fact, our offices were in the location where they actually filmed, [00:22:00] the office. The show, the out the pilot for the American office show and weirdly, his office in my office where, uh, Matt’s office was Michael Scott’s office. And my office was the, um, the conference room, which years later, when I went and directed an episode of the office, I was like, why do I know this place?
And then I realized, Oh my God, it’s literally based on our old offices. but Matt, we had a little little sign in between as a picture of the two of us, in between both of our offices.And someone had put up sticky notes [00:22:30] over each of us and an over Matt’s that said, uh, how do we make it more emotional and under mine it said, how to make it funnier.
And there is this sort of like, you know, clearly everyone brings their whatever their interest is, whatever their, uh, their point of view is to the table. And even though sometimes it can be frustrating when someone says, well, wait a minute, let’s reconsider this. You know, it’s almost always a better thing because there’s nothing wrong with kicking the tires and, and, and interrogating something.
[00:23:00] But the best thing, and this is what I have found, you know, uh, recently I, I, I, I, co-wrote a, a pilot with a writer named Latoya Morgan. Um, and she’s a wonderful writer. She’s a black woman who brings a point of view that is clearly going to be a life experience, very different from mine. And when I bring up an idea and she says, you know, hold on, let’s talk about this or that, or vice versa.
I feel like we almost invariably end up in a [00:23:30] place where there’s something that we are both, um, like beaming about that we wouldn’t have arrived at had it just been one of us in that room. And in all likelihood, you know, someone who looked like us, you know, either just me or just her. So I feel like, there’s a lot of talk of how diversity is good and how you say in your book, diversity is good but hard. But you know, I have personally felt like, you know, working with people who don’t look like you especially when they are, you know, smart and [00:24:00] Rethinkers, um, it’s incredible how much better the conversation is how much richer it is. And I think how much better the work ends up being. And, and I’m grateful for any time I work with someone, whether it’s Matt and Latoya, I can name a huge list of people who are really willing to rethink, things that I, I might just assume.
Need to stay. and the only caveat I would say here is that I can also think of times when there were paths we were on and the [00:24:30] ability to switch it up and rethink something might not have been for the best.
ADAM: / Yeah, this is one of them, hardest questions that I really wrestled with while writing the book. And I’m still grappling with now, which is. How much rethinking is too much. And how do I know whether when I’ve started rethinking something, I should actually change my mind or go back to my original first answer.
And the only coherent place that I’ve landed on this so far is to say, well, if this is a curve and there’s an optimal amount [00:25:00] of rethinking, I think most of us don’t do enough of it. Agree or disagree.
JJ: You’re asking me?
ADAM: Yeah. It’s a question. Do you agree or disagree?
JJ: Uh, you know, my guess is I would agree.
ADAM: / Got it. / Uh, I have to take a sidebar here at JJ, because you mentioned the office. This is work-life. I read once that you did not like the office when it premiered in the U S and that you weren’t even a fan of the entire first season. Is it true? And what led you to [00:25:30] rethink that view?
JJ: I think that, what I felt was when I first watched it, because I became a huge fan, which is why I reached out to them, essentially begging them to hire me as a director. Uh, I was such a fan of the original. And in fact, to a degree that I reached out to Ricky Gervais and wrote a part for him in Alias, which he played, um, and.
I was such a fan of that show and, and the specificity of it that it felt for me I just remember when I first saw it, I thought, Oh, no. Like, it didn’t matter how good everyone was. Cause they were great. It felt like it was somehow sacrilege that it was, it was, redoing exactly the same thing in essentially the same time [00:26:00] period.
/ You know, putting it through the American TV mill, and then you realize, Oh, they’re doing it perfectly. And it’s, it’s exactly what it should be. And it’s its own thing. It was the quality of the show that won me over.
/ ADAM: Okay. Next question. I’m sure you hate getting asked about Star Wars in particular because it might, what might be the most beloved universe ever created. At minimum, it’s got a lot of passionate fans. And I, you know, I, I love the force awakening, awakens. Uh, I love the rise of Skywalker. Uh, I [00:30:00] especially love the points where you rethought some moments and characters.
And I wanted to ask you about one specific one, which is. Uh, I, I, I think my biggest moment of shock and the new trilogy was when Emperor Palpatine came back to life, because I thought he’d been dead since 1983. And so I was wondering how you went about rethinking his demise.
JJ: Well, that was something that came in and out. and then [00:30:30] back in again,
/ but that idea was something that, that felt right like it was sitting there, set up in the prequels. And when we were looking at the story, the, the idea of a character who was desperate to find, immortality, and
It felt like it was sitting there and that it was a setup, potential setup. Um, and I kept imagining it as something that could work. you know, if I’m a kid watching all nine [00:31:00] movies years from now, it, it felt like something that was, A possible setup to be examined, later
/ I will say that it’s something that, I loved the possibility of it and the promise of it. And, it was one of, you know, so many things that we were rethinking and, and, and trying to find ways to sort of fit the pieces of the puzzle together.
And I know that, for some people they clicked [00:31:30] in and it worked and was fun and surprising. And for other people, it was, you know, understandably infuriating and sacrilege and, stupid and wrong. The, the reactions were, were vast, but it was also something that was, um, you know, in, in, in various moments. felt like, it was the right move.
ADAM: I imagine that happens a lot to that. Yeah, you, you, you rethink a classic world or story, whether it’s star Wars or star Trek, [00:32:00] uh, or even characters that we’ve fallen in love with. I still feel like, you know, with Lost in particular, I still feel like, you know, Sawyer and Saeed and Kate and some of the others are long lost friends. / How often do you rethink the stories you’ve told versus once you put it out into the world? You’re, you’re happy with the creative choices you’ve made, regardless of the feedback.
JJ: Well, all I see when I work on something is, is the thing that, that. We could have and should have done to make this better or that different, the rethinking doesn’t stop because it’s, it’s out there. and I do think that one of the enemies of, of certainly, uh, [00:32:30] movies and, and in some cases, TV, uh, is the sort of, you know, the announced release date where the, the time that one normally should have to rethink doesn’t exist.
and it’s very difficult to be, in a healthy way, rethinking, uh, when you are, uh, under the gun in practical material and often very expensive ways.
for example, when Damon and I started working on [00:33:00] Lost, uh, it was a very particular, you know, crazy ticking clock where the head of ABC at the time, Lloyd Braun wanted a show about people who survived a plane crash.
And so when Damon and I, who had never met when we, we wrote that. Outline. It was in a week based on just pure instinct. And we went off and we shot this two hour pilot that we were, you know, writing, casting, shooting, doing post and everything in, in nine weeks. And it was a V crazy [00:33:30] crunch period.
And it, ended up working as pilot and then Damon and Carlton, Cuse, wrote series.
/ Um, but I, I feel like, you know, it’s one of those lessons that um not having an ending it just makes it harder.
/ Um, I know it sounds so obvious and so easy, but, when you take that leap of faith, um, When Stephen King starts writing a novel, he gets to finish that novel and decide, does anyone need to see this? Uh, and I’m sure he’s got drawers full of [00:34:00] things that people have not read because he’s feels like it’s not the thing.
/ And one of the crazy things that this pandemic quarantine time has done for TV and for movies is it’s given people time too, write, not just a pilot or a rough outline, but write entire seasons of a series before it even goes, which, uh, you know, you, you want to be flexible and you want to be able to cast a role [00:34:30] and realize, Oh my God, we got to do this with this character because we didn’t realize it. Or this thing is isn’t working the way I thought it would.
But, um, This time has allowed people, uh, writers to, you know, write without the pressure of, we have to be casting this thing right now, we have to be location scouting. We have to be, you know, getting the, you know, the, all these episodes edited and posted and ready for broadcast.
And I think that, in no way, do I feel like, Oh great. We had this time to do this. You know, I I’d much rather [00:35:00] life be normal and COVID not exist. Uh, but I will say that that if, if there is any kind of creative, benefit to this time, it’s that suddenly release dates and broadcast dates are, are not being, you know, as aggressively announced and, and time is available for, some. Writers to be able to actually work on the stories, in a more, you know, I think human pace and that is no small thing.
ADAM: Is there a creative practice that you’ve rethought during the past year?
JJ: You had said to me that we could be breaking stories without ever being in the same room together. I would have thought it was probably impossible if not wildly unlikely. And I think that. D online, uh, [00:36:00] not just the zooms, but also the sort of online whiteboard, uh, you know, apps that exist that allow people to collaborate remotely has, uh, I think probably profoundly changed the way stories, at least on television and writer’s rooms will, will be broken.
ADAM: Wow. Does that, does that mean writer’s rooms won’t always be physical even after the pandemic.
JJ: They definitely will. But I think though that, that someone, you know, having to be someone, someone can now be part of it who might not be [00:36:30] in town. Like, I think that, that the norm will, it’s always gonna be better to be together, but there’s something great about the, you know, the focus and the, you know, the access that you have from anywhere.
Um, so I just think that, that that’s something that, you know, clearly there will be. You know, infinitely fewer, uh, business trips to have meetings that could now clearly be done on zoom. Will people go back to it? You know, the way we were [00:37:00] before, more than not, I, I believe they will. But, um, this has now accelerated, you know, the, the, the evidence that this is a valid and really productive way to work. I’ve never said those words.
ADAM: We’re not going to hold you accountable. Okay. Next question. I’m going to try not to ask follow ups on them, uh, from one magician to another
/ how does all the time you’ve spent learning magic tricks and performing [00:37:30] them affect your job? Has it spilled over into your work life in any way?
JJ: I think the thing about magic as much as some might see it as the geekiest sort of, you know, silliest thing to me, it’s, it’s incredibly powerful. We had a magician in our office and this was like two years ago, and he was in my office, just the two of us, and he did a few tricks and he did one that literally made me as a 50 year old man [00:38:00] think to myself in my head, he might be magical. Like you know, cause I know how magic tricks are done. I know how a lot of, I know a bunch of gimmicks. I know a bunch of tricks. He did something where I was like, I wonder if he’s maybe magical. Does he have? And my whole point is the fact that someone who’s a half a century old can still have a moment of thinking there might be powers beyond that, which I know, uh, is so [00:38:30] profound and the, the wow, and the gasping and the amazement that, that, you know, any audience has big or small it’s. There there’s something about the, the sense of possibility that, that the world is more than it seems, and that, that we want to see things that we can’t imagine and that we don’t expect.
And so I, I feel like that is a natural, uh, aspect to telling a story. /
And, and, and I [00:39:00] just think that that whether it’s, you know, writing a, a book or making a show or a movie, um, it’s all a bit of a magic trick.
ADAM: You are so much more comfortable not knowing than I am. I immediately want the answer. I have to figure out the secret.
JJ: but then you can never see the trick again.
ADAM: You can admire the skill and the, the genius of the performer who executed it.
ADAM: / Okay. Next, uh, favorite character from the office.
JJ: / I have to be Michael Scott. Not because it just, because I think he [00:39:30] is, he is the hub of the wheel. And so everyone is kind of, it feels like they’re all kind of in his orbit to mix metaphors.
ADAM: So interesting. He wasn’t even in my top five, I love that
/ And then can I ask you the same question about [01:20:30] Star Wars.
/ JJ: My favorite character in. In Star Wars was Han, just because, I mean, it’s very hard to think of a better [01:21:00] scene in a movie ever than when you meet Han solo and, and, and then in empire strikes back, I mean, like th there’s just, there are some of the greatest, uh, like truest.
Larger than life, but completely relatable and grounded moments. Um, and you know, when we got to shoot in force awakens, you know, Harrison and chewy coming into the, you know, the Falcon and saying, you know, we’re home / Cause it just, there was something so. Crazy about it. Um, and I feel super lucky to have been part of that.
//ADAM: I had tears in my eyes when, when Han and Chewie had their reunion.
//JJ: it just felt a bit like [01:23:00] we just couldn’t wait to show it to people because it just felt like, Oh my God, you should see this.
It’s just so cool. Having them back on the ship.
ADAM: it was a beautiful moment.//
JJ: / I’d love to talk to you about, uh, As a red Sox fan, the red Sox versus Yankees. And, and you, you have this great chapter about just how far, uh, fans of these teams are willing to go to torture the, the opposing team and, and what you [00:40:00] tried, what didn’t work. And then would finally seem to break the ice, uh, of, of having them sort of find the humanity in each other.
/ So my question to you is. Uh, what was, what, what surprised you do you in your attempts to build those bridges between those two fan bases and, and what were your findings? Uh, in, in summary?
ADAM: Uh, I’m, I’m so glad that resonated, you know, I was, I was. When thinking about the prejudice that [00:40:30] so many people hold toward other groups, I was looking for a context where we could study it, where the actual stakes are minimal, but the emotional stakes feel very high and sports fan allegiances. It just, it felt like the perfect place to go.
I mean, a few years ago I got to know an amazing woman in her 70s who helps Holocaust survivors. One day she mentioned that she went to Ohio State, and my first reaction was yuck. Ok, I’m a Michigan Wolverine; we’re rivals. But it started to bother me at a fundamental level. Who cares where she went to school half a century ago? And so I decided, you know, like any self-respecting social scientist, I should study that.
And so, uh, Tim Kundro and I ran all these experiments with Yankees and red Sox fans, which was such an, an easy rivalry to choose. And I think my, my biggest surprise was that, uh, that two of the, the steps that were supposed to work based on all the existing science didn’t, uh, w one of those was, was just creating a common identity as baseball fans.
And, you know, people would say, yeah, you know, I would [00:41:30] help a Yankees fan if they were in an emergency, but otherwise, You know, they’re rooting for an evil team. So no, thank you. Uh, and then, you know, the other one was to, to try to humanize the individual fan where basically what happened was people said, all right, you know what, there’s this one Yankees fan who’s.
Okay. But he’s not like the other ones and I still hate all the rest of them. So what, what ultimately ended up, you know, ended up working in, in a way that I, I was, I was surprised by the power of it actually was saying, [00:42:00] look, you know, ma maybe we just need to get people to rethink how they became fans in the first place.
So imagine JJ, if you had grown up in New York, would you, you possibly root for the H now you’d probably root for the Mets, but the point is you might not be a Red Sox fan.
JJ: I’m not crazy. No, I’m kidding. I’m joking. I’m joking to all my Mets fans friends. I’m joking.
ADAM: I don’t know if you are, but go on
JJ: I’m joking. No, I keep going,
ADAM: well, no. So I thought this idea of just, you know, considering the possibility that we could hold different views, all of a sudden, [00:42:30] it, it just destabilizes a lot of the stereotypes and prejudices that people hold.
And so, as you know, we ran these really entertaining experiments where, we gave people a chance to punish fans of the [01:27:30] opposing team by giving them extra spicy, hot sauce, uh, or by giving them really difficult math problems, which were actually going to hurt their payment for participating in the study.
And we found that lo and behold, after we just got. Fans to think about how they might root for a different team. If they’d been born in a different city, that was enough to get them to show less animosity its word fans of the opposing team, uh, which I thought was amazing. And this did not make it into the book, but, uh, we just finished a couple experiments [01:28:00] with, uh, with gun control and gun.
Rights advocates, where we found that the same process worked for them, that if we got somebody who was extremely concerned about, uh, about gun safety to imagine having been born in a hunting family, they actually were less nasty than to somebody on the other side of the aisle. So I think there might be something to this.
JJ: Uh, fantastic. / So I can’t thank you enough for talking to me on your show about you. Um, you should do the, uh, the goodbye because it’s your show, but I just, I wanted to thank you for the, uh, the, the honor and opportunity.
ADAM: Well, JJ, I can’t thank you enough for coming. I’m so grateful that you read the book that you liked it, that you were willing to talk about. It it’s a huge gift to me and our listeners, and I loved getting a [00:44:00] little bit inside of your mind and your work life.
And most importantly, the work you do has, has always been just a huge source of inspiration to me. But over the past year, you have been a source of light and hope and entertainment and creative inspiration. And, uh, I just want to thank you for everything that you do to entertain us and to get us to rethink so many of the things that we think we know.
JJ: Holy crap. That was an unbelievable, uh, way too generous. But your, uh, your, your words are incredibly appreciated and, and, and, uh, [00:44:30] again, thank you for this amazing book. And your kind words.
CREDITS — WorkLife is hosted by me, Adam Grant. Our team includes Colin Helms, Gretta Cohn, Dan O’Donnell, Constanza Gallardo, JoAnn DeLuna, Grace Rubenstein, Michelle Quint, Angela Cheng and Anna Phelan. This episode was produced by Jessica Glazer and supported by Viking Penguin. Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know is available in whatever format you like: print, electronic, stone tablet, or audio– narrated by me.