Want to know who someone is, how insightful they are and what they really care about? Then stop listening to their self-promotion pitch inclusive of the mckinsey-harvard pedigree*, or reading those PR-generated bios. Fiction is one thing, and professional resumes rise above that level to come to be an act of creative license. It seems lately that watching someone interview for a gig is like watching a performing artist at work.
Want to be able to tell the difference between the pitch and reality? I’ve found a good question that reveals a lot about who a person really is. I use it in formal interviews, lunch-time gatherings or dinner parties. Rather than asking some what they do and their pedigree, I ask instead, what they read, and which writers they like. Unless they are unbelievably good at fiction creation, looking at what they read or write can get past the façade of most people. That’s why I’m the consummate snoop when I go to people’s homes. Not to look in their closets or bathroom drawers, but to see what is on their bookshelf. It’s more intimate than looking at their lingerie drawer.
My nightstand currently has a backlog of books.
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It’s a story of Lincoln’s leadership style during an American crisis. I love biographies but books by Doris Kearns Goodwin are so wonderful they’re like reading someone’s personal thoughts.
The market makers by Daniel Spulber. The title got me to buy it online, but a quick peruse and I’m worried that he’s an academic that hasn’t ever practiced in the real world. I’ll let you know what I think as I complete the work. But that may never happen. It’s got the words win markets about 20 times in the first 4 pages.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Foer. My colleague Chris Keene just put it on his best of 2005 list so it hit the top of my list. I got about 20 books around Christmas and am slowing working my way through them.
Try this question over lunch. See what you find out about people you wouldn’t otherwise know.
*By the way, I’m not saying a McKinsey-Harvard pedigree is bad. My best friend has this and fabulous work achievements also. But what I like about her is that she manages to be this incredible combination of wicked-smart, humble, and interested in the ideas and interest of all people.