The Path to Insight: How a Book Changed an Editor’s Life

“You read articles about self-awareness, and everybody oversimplifies it. They just say, ‘Well, get more feedback.’ It’s not that simple.”

Dr. Tasha Eurich is an organizational psychologist, researcher, and New York Times best-selling author. Her most recent book, Insight, delves into the connection between our self-awareness—what she calls the meta-skill of the twenty-first century—and our performance and success, both in and out of the workplace. She recently sat down with her editor at Penguin Random House, Talia Krohn, to discuss the behind-the-scenes details of how the book came to be, and how it changed Talia’s life for the better.

Tasha: We thought it might be fun to reminisce a little bit about the process of writing Insight, and all of the fun struggles that at the time were really frustrating, but now make us giggle.

Talia: Should we start with the title? Which was not always Insight, and in fact took quite a few months to get to that place. What’s funny is that I actually can’t remember any of the other titles. I think once we settled on that, it felt so right for the book that all the other stuff just went out of my head.

Tasha: That’s so true. I felt like it was kind of a metaphor. It was so simple, and it was there all along, and we had been using the word. To me there’s something poetic about that, in terms of self-awareness. It’s like seeing something that was already there. To get there though, a lot had to happen.

Talia: Yes.

Tasha: Maybe if we rewind to the first time the proposal for this book came across your desk. What was it about this book? What was the idea or the approach that really made you interested?

Talia: I was actually interested before I saw the proposal. I was having breakfast with [your agent] Christy, and she starts talking to me about the book. I think the thing that really caught my attention was when she started talking about how there’s this whole other piece to self-awareness that we don’t think about, and that so many people who think they’re self-aware are so busy looking inward. They’re going to therapy, they’re navel gazing, they’re ruminating.

Then she started talking about this whole other piece, about understanding how other people see you, and the image that you really give off. I was like, “Wow, that is so true.” Then I started thinking about all these people I know, who see themselves in some way that is not really accurate. Like they’re a really good leader, or speaker, or whatever.

Then I started thinking, “Oh God, what if I’m one of these people?” Then I started thinking, what if this thing that I think about myself is totally wrong, and [I had] like a mini panic attack at breakfast.

“She did a really good job [of] being diplomatic and not being like, ‘Are you two smoking crack?’”

Tasha: In a good way though, right?

Talia: In a good way, because then I was like “Wow, this is really going to get people’s attention,” because I think everyone has this, “Oh my God, is that how people see me?” [moment]. That was when I was really like, “I want to work on this book.”

Then when I saw the proposal itself, the thing that really drew me in was the Steve story, because I was like, “Everyone knows this guy.”

Tasha: This totally delusional boss who thinks he’s the best leader on Earth, and [has] a rude wake up call.

Talia: Yeah. After that it was like a done deal.

Tasha: I love it. I’m curious, how has your self-awareness, or the way you see your self-awareness, changed as a result of working on this book?

Talia: I think I’m more self-aware about being self-aware. It’s on my mind so much more. Thinking about how other people see me through the lens of how they see themselves, and thinking about, “Okay, this person processes the world in this way, [and] they’re going to react to what I’m doing differently than, say, this other person might react to it.” The feedback stuff has been really life-changing, too. Just the importance of just being candid.

I remember once, I was having trouble giving feedback to someone, and you [told] me, “Think about how you would take it in that person’s shoes. You would be grateful to have that information. [So] don’t let your discomfort get in the way of what’s going to help [that person’s] performance and also be very useful to them.” That has really changed the way that I look at candor, and interacting with people.

Tasha: I was thinking it might be fun to talk about the funniest things that happened during the process. It was challenging and very rewarding, but there were some pretty funny moments, too.

Talia: We had some good moments, frog prince being the number one I think.

Tasha: Tell them, who is the frog prince?

Talia: The frog prince is an early iteration of the cover. There were many.

Tasha: Dozens.

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Talia: Dozens. Took a while to get it right, and one of the early drafts was an interesting take on the book’s content from our directors, who are quite brilliant. It was basically a frog looking in the mirror, and in his reflection he sees a prince. You can see how they got there, but it was a little ridiculous. So we thought it would be funny to play a little practical joke on Tasha’s agent: send her the frog prince, and tell her that we loved it. This is the cover.

Tasha: This is it.

Talia: This is it. We thought we were quite hilarious. However, her reaction was even better than I could have imagined. She thought we were serious. She had a mini freak out.

Tasha: She tried to be positive, because she thought we were serious that we [had] finally found the one. What did she say? She’s like, “Wow. It’s very innovative.”

Talia: Yeah. She did a really good job [of] being diplomatic and not being like, “Are you two smoking crack?”

Tasha: Yeah, yeah.

Talia: That was pretty fun. We had some good laughs over that.

Tasha: The process of bringing a book from concept to reality [has so] many twists and turns. You’ve said how little decisions can really have a big impact. I’m curious, what are your reflections on that?

Talia: I think one of the big decisions we made early on was taking out a lot of the practical stuff, a lot of the exercises that are now in the workbook. I think [of] the little stuff… Like, where should this story go? What point do we want to make here? What lesson do we want to try out in this particular part of the book?

Tasha: There were some hard stories to cut. Probably my favorite story that didn’t make it in the book was the story about a bank-robbing clown.

Talia: Oh, Dennis.

Tasha: Dennis Hawkins. Yeah. We were originally going to start the book with it, [but] we realized that it wasn’t serving the purpose that the story in that place needed to serve.

Talia: It was really, really tough to let go of Dennis.

Tasha: We’ve got to figure out somewhere else to use Dennis.

“You read articles about self-awareness, and everybody oversimplifies it. They just say, ‘Well, get more feedback.’ It’s not that simple.”

Talia: It’s just hard, right? There would be times [when] you had four examples for something, and I’m like, “Oh there should really only be two, but these are all really good.”

Tasha: It’s like we have five cute puppies, and we can only keep two of them.

Talia: Oh, I would keep all of them.

Tasha: Good thing we don’t have an animal shelter.

Talia: Yeah. It was a fun process. It was work, but rewarding work, and it’s so fun to see it pay off. I also like your unboxing video that you did when you got the book. It was amazing.

Tasha: My friend filmed me opening the book, the first couple of copies that I ever saw, and my first reaction was, “Wow. It’s really long.”

Talia: It was longer, but I think it’s the right length.

Tasha: Yeah. We’re just so proud of it and so excited to share it with the world.

Any words of advice you would give readers of Insight? Any personal things that you’ve learned about how to become more self-aware?

Talia: Oh, that’s such a good question. The parts of the book that helped me the most were about stopping rumination, which I think I, like most people, struggle with. And the feedback stuff, because I think everyone who works in an office with other people struggles with that. That stuff has been really transformative in terms of how I work with others.

Tasha: You know, you read articles about self-awareness, and everybody oversimplifies it. They just say, “Well, get more feedback.” It’s not that simple. I mean, how do you make that actionable?

Talia: And how hard it is! How hard it is to tell people the truth, how hard it is to hear the truth. When we did our feedback challenge here, everyone was so furious at me. They were like, “Why are you making us do this?” Then they found out our boss was going to be a part of it, and —

Tasha: It was even worse.

Talia: This is terrible. I brought people cupcakes, so they wouldn’t be too mad at me, [but] it didn’t really help because they were too nervous to eat. Giving and hearing negative feedback is hard, but when you realize the truth, it will sting, but it will help you.

“Knowing that goals are aligned makes it so much easier to be candid and open.”

Tasha: What I’ve so enjoyed about our partnership is [that] we’re honest with each other always, and it’s not honesty for meanness. It’s honesty because we want this to be the best possible book.

Talia: Right.

Tasha: Right? We learned that from the unicorns that we studied, these people who made dramatic transformations in their self-awareness. It never gets easier for them, and I thought they would say, “Oh, it’s a piece of cake to ask for feedback. I do it all the time.” They said, “Are you kidding? I hate hearing that I’m not perfect.” It’s always going to be hard, but we have to do it anyway. It’s worth it, right?

Talia: Yeah, and knowing that goals are aligned makes it so much easier to be candid and open. We want the best possible book. We are both on this mission. This is what we care about. I think it makes it a lot easier on both ends.

Tasha: Exactly. Any other words of advice?

Talia: Read the book. Oh, buy another copy, and leave it on your boss’s desk in a paper bag. I find the whole thing just so hilarious.

Tasha: People are doing it actually. I have heard two examples of people that have done that. [Also,] take the quiz at www.insight-quiz.com.

Talia: The quiz is really fun.

Tasha: I have a co-author that calls it the party trick version. It’s actually a subset of a much longer, far more boring scale in self-awareness, but basically it allows you to check how self-aware you [think you are,] and then how self-aware someone else [thinks you are,] and it puts you in one of four boxes and gives you some tips and hints.

Talia: I thought other people were going to think it was annoying to do their part about me, but everyone I sent it to was so excited, because they were like, “Great, I get to evaluate you!” Now I want to send it to more people to compare the comments from people who know [me] in different contexts.

Tasha: Yeah, and you can. Your spouse and your boss might see different things, so sometimes it’s good to check those perceptions. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they’ve taken it multiple times with different people, and every time it tells them something new, so I hope you take the quiz.