Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg on the 3 Kinds of Originals
“I read in the paper once that someone was leaning into a taco. And I thought, ‘That’s terrific, I love tacos, too… not exactly what I meant though.’”
Adam: I think this is hard. The first thing is: it’s more about teaching values than teaching rules. If you look at the data on parents who raise really creative children, they focus not on, “Here are the things you need to do or you’re going to be punished,” but, “Here are the principles that we stand for, and let’s have a dialogue about why that’s important.” That’s not to say that no rules is a good idea, but when you have rules, you have to explain the why behind them.
The other thing I learned is the way that we praise our kids is often backwards. This was eye-opening to me. Let’s say that you want your kids to be really generous. I always said, “Wow, thank you for sharing,” after our kids shared their toys. It turns out you gain more generous behavior for saying, “Thank you for being a sharer.” Or not, “Thank you for giving,” but “Thank you for being a giver.” Because you start to internalize that as part of their identity, and next time they have the chance to do that they’re like, “Oh, I’m a giving person who would be helpful.”
It works for cheating, too. Instead of saying, “Don’t cheat,” you say, “Don’t be a cheater.” Instead of saying, “Don’t lie,” you say, “Don’t be a liar.” And now their behavior casts a shadow, and that makes the children feel guilty. And we all know that guilt is the gift that keeps on giving.
So, thinking in the domain of originality, instead of praising creative artwork, you say, “Wow, you are a creative person.” When you have teenagers, instead of saying, “You don’t have to follow a crowd,” you say, “You are a nonconformist.” And they’re much more likely to stand up and say it’s okay to not be a sheep.
Sheryl: Okay, lightning round. These are fast answers.
Better to be a first mover or late entrant?
Adam: Late entrant.
Sheryl: Givers or takers?
Sheryl: Most original thing you’ve ever done?
Adam: Not this answer!
Sheryl: What did you do last time you got writer’s block?
Adam: I wrote about something else.
Sheryl: First thing you do in the morning?
Adam: Have our kids trample on me, usually.
Sheryl: Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Adam: “Don’t make the right decision, make the decision right.”
This conversation has been edited and condensed.
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